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New York AG Receives Referral To Begin Cuomo Harassment Probe

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a Feb. 22, 2021, press briefing.
Seth Wenig
Associated Press
N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo

State Attorney General Letitia James said she’s received from Governor Andrew Cuomo the referral required to investigate him and his office on allegations of sexual harassment from two former aides. The accusations include inappropriate touching, an unsolicited kiss and invitations for sex. One day after Cuomo offered his response to the charges, many elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, said they don’t buy it.

The Attorney General made public the letter she received from Cuomo’s chief counsel, Beth Garvey, giving the go ahead for the probe to begin, and for a chief investigator to be chosen. Under the rules, the attorney general is supposed to report back weekly to the governor’s office, but Garvey said “due to the nature of the review,” the governor’s staff will not ask to see anything related to the report until it’s completed and made public.

Two former aides to the governor said Cuomo’s inappropriate behavior included an unsolicited kiss, personal questions about dating relationships and an inquiry about potential interest in sleeping with an older man, and invitations to play strip poker while on a business flight in the state plane.

Cuomo, in a statement Sunday night, partially answered some of the women’s charges. He said that he is sometimes “playful” with work colleagues, and makes jokes that he might think are funny, but that he now understands can be insensitive, and “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.” And said he’s “truly sorry” that anyone might have felt that way.

His statement was criticized by Democrats, including New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio, who has long feuded with Cuomo.

“That's not an apology. He seemed to be saying, ‘oh, I was just kidding around.’ You know, sexual harassment is not funny. It's serious. It has to be taken seriously,” deBlasio said. “And he just clearly was letting himself off the hook for something that, for the women involved, sounded pretty terrifying.”

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, who has also had his differences with Cuomo, said it falls short.

“There’s a significant difference between saying ‘I’m sorry that someone was offended by what I did’ and saying ‘I’m sorry for what I did,” Gianaris said. “His statement was more the former of those two.”

Republicans in the Legislature called for the governor to resign. Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said the sexual harassment investigation, combined with the federal investigation into the governor’s nursing home policies will take up a lot of the governor’s time.

“How can that person also do the job they’ve been elected to do, in guiding us through this pandemic?” Ortt said. “In guiding us through the fiscal and economic crisis that we are facing?”

The two highest ranking women in state government, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, both Democrats, over the weekend issued statements before Cuomo released his response. Stewart-Cousins said that allegations are disturbing, and that an independent investigation should take place. Hochul, in a statement, also said she backs an independent review and said “everyone deserves to have their voice heard and taken seriously.”

Neither mentioned Cuomo by name, and neither have commented on the governor’s explanation for his alleged behavior.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.