AG begins independent Cuomo probe

Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s officeGov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a COVID-19 briefing in the state Capitol in Albany on Jan. 29.

ALBANY — New York’s attorney general will select an independent law firm to investigate sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo after a stalemate between officials over the weekend that prompted legislators Monday to propose changing state law.

State Attorney General Letitia James will appoint a special deputy to select an independent law firm to conduct an investigation with subpoena power after the Executive Chamber issued a referral letter granting James’s request to investigate sexual harassment allegations against the governor.

“All New York state employees have been directed to cooperate fully with this review,” according to a letter to James’s office Monday from Beth Garvey, Cuomo’s special counsel and senior adviser. “I will serve as point of contact for any witness interviews or document production for the Executive Chamber and will connect you with appropriate counsel in any other agency or entity for any documents or witnesses necessary for the review.”

Two former female aides have accused Gov. Cuomo of sexual harassment in the workplace within the last week.

In a Saturday New York Times report Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former executive assistant and health policy adviser to the governor, said while she worked for Cuomo’s administration at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the governor repeatedly asked her about her sex life, if she had ever had sex with older men and if she was monogamous in her relationships.

Last week, Lindsey Boylan, former Empire State Development chief and Cuomo’s special adviser, released a detailed account accusing the governor of harassing her multiple times

Boylan, who is running for Manhattan borough president, first made her allegations public on Twitter in December.

The law firm overseeing the review will publish its findings in a public report at the conclusion of the investigation.

James’s office will appoint the attorney under section 63(8) of executive law. The required weekly reports to the executive under current state law will not be approved or transmitted by the governor because of the nature of the investigation, according to Garvey’s letter.

Attorney General James rejected Cuomo’s attempts to choose who would oversee the review multiple times over the weekend.

Cuomo initially tasked Barbara Jones, a former federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, to lead the independent probe. But critics said Jones has a history working with close associates of the governor, and is not truly independent.

James and Garvey played political tennis with a competitive release of public statements throughout the day Sunday, with James demanding the investigation be turned over to her office, which culminated in Monday’s referral.

Sunday morning, the governor’s office asked state Attorney General Letitia James and state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to “jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice” to conduct a review.

Sunday afternoon, James released a statement she did not accept the governor’s proposal for her to partner with DiFiore to select an independent investigator.

“While I have deep respect for Chief Judge DiFiore, I am the duly elected attorney general and it is my responsibility to carry out this task, per executive law,” James said. “The governor must provide this referral so an independent investigation with subpoena power can be conducted.”

James released an updated statement Monday after the executive chamber submitted the referral to provide her the authority to move forward with an investigation.

“This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” James said Monday. “As the letter states, at the close of the review, the findings will be disclosed in a public report.”

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Rockville Centre, a former federal prosecutor, introduced bill No. S.5260 on Monday to grant the state attorney general the authority to independently pursue investigations and conduct prosecutions without permission or interference.

The attorney general cannot launch an investigation without a referral under current state law. When a referral is made, the current law allows the governor to retain influence over the investigation and for the governor to receive status updates and approve funds to finance the probe.

“The attorney general must be empowered to conduct investigations and prosecutions without fear and favor, no matter the subject,” Kaminsky said in a statement.

Kaminsky is the former deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

“Removing the requirement of a referral will untie the hands of the attorney general — and the vast resources of that office can help check corruption and other illegal behavior that plagues Albany and the rest of the state,” he added.

The bill sits in the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee.

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