Cuomo changes course, calls for independent lawyer to be selected to review allegations of sexual harassment

The Democratic governor’s office initially selected former federal judge Barbara Jones to investigate allegations of sexual harassment made against the governor by two former female assistants, but the choice met with a swift reaction, including from several high-profile Democrats in the state – such as New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, a longtime opponent of Cuomo – who stressed the importance of someone other than the governor choosing an independent person to lead the effort.

Cuomo is now reportedly asking New York Attorney General Letitia James and Chief Justice Janet DiFiore to select “an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation” to conduct a “full review” and publish a report on the matter. in an effort to “avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference from politics,” said Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior adviser to the governor, on Sunday.

“The governor’s office wants a blameless examination of the sexual harassment allegations made against the governor,” Garvey said, adding that Cuomo’s office “will fully cooperate” with the investigation.

James released two statements on Sunday, highlighting the conditions under which his office could conduct an independent investigation.

“To clarify, I do not accept the governor’s proposal. State executive law clearly gives my office the power to investigate this matter once the governor provides a reference,” James said.

“While I have deep respect for Chief Justice DiFiore, I am the duly elected Attorney General and it is my responsibility to perform this task in accordance with executive law. The governor must provide this referral so that an independent subpoena investigation can be conducted. “

Claims against Cuomo that will be investigated include one that emerged Saturday night in an article by The New York Times. Charlotte Bennett, 25-year-old former executive assistant and health policy advisor to Cuomo, told the newspaper that during one of many uncomfortable encounters, Cuomo asked her about her sex life in a conversation in his State Capitol office and said he was. open to relationships with women in their twenties.

She interpreted the exchange – which she said took place in June as the state struggled with the pandemic – as what the newspaper called “clear overtures to a sexual relationship.” CNN has reached out to Bennett for comment on the latest accusation, which the governor denied in a statement on Saturday.

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“The last thing I ever wanted was to make her feel one of the things that are being reported,” Cuomo said, saying “she came to me and opened up about being a sexual assault survivor “and that” I have tried to be supportive and helpful. “

Another allegation was made by Lindsey Boylan, another former Cuomo aide, who wrote a detailed article on Way last week about his own allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo, which his associates say are false.

Boylan alleged in the Medium post that Cuomo invited her to ‘play strip poker’ during a 2017 flight on her taxpayer-funded jet as another aide sat next to her and a soldier of the state behind it. In 2018, Boylan said, Cuomo stunned her with a kiss on the lips after a one-on-one briefing on economic and infrastructure projects in his New York office.

Cuomo denied Boylan’s claims at a press conference in December when she first made them.

In a statement released by the governor’s press secretary on Wednesday, four other people said they were on the October flights with her and that “this conversation did not take place.”

CNN was unable to corroborate the allegations, and when asked for further comment, Boylan – who is currently running for the Manhattan Borough of President – responded that she was leaving her Medium position. speak for itself. She wrote in the post that she hoped to share her story “will pave the way for other women to do the same.”

Among Democrats who have called on Cuomo to let the Attorney General and Chief Justice appoint an independent investigator is New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, who wrote in a tweet Saturday: “As has become common practice in New York State when allegations directly concern the executive, Governor Cuomo should refer the matter to the Attorney General, who should in turn appoint an independent investigator.”
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote similarly on Twitter Sunday that “there must be an independent investigation – and not conducted by an individual chosen by the governor” to examine the allegations, which she called “extremely serious and painful to read”.

This story was updated with additional details on Sunday.

CNN’s Maeve Reston contributed to this report.

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