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Cuomo inquiry: Governor attacked for his ‘independent review’ of sexual harassment allegations

Hours after a second woman came forward to accuse Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of sexually harassing her, a torrent of New York politicians from Mr. Cuomo’s own Democratic Party demanded an independent investigation into the matter.

Many of those elected officials – including Senate and State Assembly leaders – seemed skeptical of Mr. Cuomo’s decision to appoint a former federal judge with close ties to one of Mr. Cuomo to conduct a “full and in-depth exterior review.” “

“I think the Attorney General should make an appointment to make sure this is a truly independent investigation,” Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said. written on twitter, referring to the state attorney general, Letitia James.

A small handful of left-flank Democratic Party lawmakers joined with some Republicans in demanding that Mr. Cuomo resign immediately.

“The harassment suffered by these former staff members is part of a clear pattern of abuse and manipulation on the part of the governor, and this pattern makes him unworthy of the highest office in New York,” wrote the State Senator Alessandra Biaggi in a statement. posted on twitter.

The uproar came on Saturday night, shortly after The New York Times published an article detailing the accusations of former governor’s aide Charlotte Bennett, 25. She said Mr. Cuomo asked her about her sex life, including whether she practices monogamy and is interested in older men.

Mr. Cuomo, she said, told her he was open to dating women in their twenties and bafflingly told her about his own experience of sexual assault. She said she later realized he was grooming her. It was the second such allegation against the governor in a week.

Mr Cuomo said he believed he had acted as a mentor and had “never made advances towards Ms Bennett, and I never intended to act in a way inappropriate ”.

“This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press,” he said in a statement released on Saturday. “I think the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough external review, and I ask all government employees to comply with this effort.”

The governor’s office said the investigation would be led by Barbara S. Jones, a former federal judge who worked with Mr. Cuomo’s long-time adviser Steven M. Cohen after leaving the bench.

Questions immediately arose about the integrity of Mr. Cuomo’s external review.

“With all due respect, you can’t pick a federal judge who works with your good friend and decide that will be the investigator,” said Liz Krueger, a Democratic senator from Manhattan.

Kathleen Rice, a congresswoman from Long Island and a former Nassau County district attorney, put it even more candidly.

“The accused CANNOT name the investigator,” Rice wrote on Twitter. “PERIOD.”

Critics prompted the Cuomo administration to respond on Saturday night. “There are no limits to the scope of Judge Jones’ review,” said Beth Garvey, special counsel for the governor, in a statement that also included a summary of the judge’s career biography.

The eventful weekend may have capped Mr. Cuomo’s worst month of decade as governor of New York City and marked a sharp turnaround in his fortunes.

Last week, Lindsey Boylan, the state’s former economic development official, detailed her earlier accusation that Mr. Cuomo repeatedly harassed her from 2016 to 2018, at one point giving her an unsolicited kiss on lips in his Manhattan office. Mr. Cuomo has denied the allegations.

Erica Vladimer, co-founder of the Sexual Harassment Working Group, a collective of former public servants, said the accusations of sexual harassment and bullying fit into the same theme.

“These are not two separate sets of allegations,” she said. “These are two examples of long-standing abuse, harassment, retaliation and a culture of a hostile work environment.”

Less than a year after Mr. Cuomo’s pandemic-era press briefings sparked discussions about his presidential ambitions and sparked a #cuomosexual trend on Twitter, Democrats have openly questioned whether the governor could survive this latest crisis, which follows several others.

Ms James, the state attorney general, reported in late January that Mr Cuomo’s administration significantly underestimated nursing home deaths in New York state.

A New York Times report found that Mr Cuomo had all but declared war on his own health department over coronavirus policies, apparently prompting the departure of at least nine high-level executives. Then his main assistant, Melissa DeRosa, was taped admitting that the state withheld data on retirement home deaths from the state legislature because it feared a politically motivated investigation by the Department of Justice of the Trump administration, which sparked cover-up allegations and demands for Mr. Cuomo’s impeachment.

Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into how Mr. Cuomo has handled nursing homes; lawmakers have rallied to strip Mr. Cuomo of his unilateral emergency powers, which they bestowed on him at the start of the pandemic; and potential competitors have started to consider more seriously challenging him in next year’s election.

“Lying about the deaths in retirement homes and lying about the treatment of a young woman and a married woman who work for him is bad, very bad,” said Karen Hinton, who worked as a press secretary for Mr. Cuomo when he headed the Federal Department of Housing.

It was not immediately clear whether Ms James, a longtime ally of Mr Cuomo, would get involved. She was the governor’s favorite candidate after Eric T. Schneiderman suddenly resigned as attorney general in 2018 amid scrutiny over her treatment of women, and she easily embraced Mr. Cuomo’s political support. .

But Ms James, the first black woman to hold a position in the entire state, has led a number of progressive campaigns in power, and her critical examination of Mr Cuomo’s handling of the nursing home crisis. has an unusual conflict with the governor – even generating speculation among liberal leaders and strategists that she could challenge him next year when he seeks his fourth term.

Ms James’ office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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