New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday requested the state attorney general and chief judge select an independent attorney to lead an investigation into allegations he sexually harassed two former aides.
Cuomo said he understood he “may have been insensitive or too personal.””To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” he said. “To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”
Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior adviser to the governor, said in a statement that Cuomo wants to avoid “even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics.”
“Accordingly we have asked the attorney general of New York State and the chief judge of the court of appeals to jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report. The work product will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the attorney general and chief judge,” Garvey said in the statement. “All members of the governor’s office will cooperate fully. We will have no further comment until the report is issued.
It was unclear whether the proposal would appease legislative leaders and other top Democrats who had assailed Cuomo’s initial plan to appoint a retired federal judge to review his workplace conduct.
“New York Attorney General Letitia James also released a statement Sunday agreeing to an independent investigation.
“Allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously. There must be a truly independent investigation to thoroughly review these troubling allegations against the governor, and I stand ready to oversee that investigation and make any appointments necessary,” James said. “Given state law, this can only be accomplished through an official referral from the governor’s office based on State Law (§ 63-8) and must include subpoena power. I urge the governor to make this referral immediately.”
Bennett, 25, alleged the governor asked “questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men.”
Bennett left the governor’s office last November, and said the harassment came last spring during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the New York Times. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Cuomo responded on Saturday with a statement saying he never made advances toward her and never intended to be inappropriate.
Bennett is the second former aide of the governor’s to come forward with claims of sexual harassment.
Another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, recently accused Cuomo of subjecting her to unwanted kissing and inappropriate comments. Cuomo denied Boylan’s account of what happened.
The allegations prompted calls for an independent investigation from more than a dozen state lawmakers and officials, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Some officials urged the governor to resign and others said the state Legislature should revoke emergency powers he was granted to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Associated Press and Scripps National contributed to this report.