Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is facing one of the most tumultuous moments of his three terms after two women who once worked for his administration accused him of sexually harassing them.
Under immense public and political pressure, the governor’s office asked the state attorney general to appoint someone to conduct an outside investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat.
On Sunday night, Mr. Cuomo offered some sort of apology, saying, “I recognize that some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation.
“To the extent that everyone felt that,” he said. “I’m so sorry about that.”
The deepening scandal marks one of the lowest points in Mr Cuomo’s tenure and has left his political future in limbo, as he faces fresh scrutiny over his administration’s decision not to not disclose data on deaths in nursing homes during the pandemic.
Here’s what we know so far.
Ex-aide says Mr. Cuomo asked about his sex life
Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former assistant to the governor, accused him of sexually harassing her last year, telling the New York Times that Mr Cuomo, 63, asked her about his sex life and if she had ever had sex. with older men.
Ms Bennett, who left administration in November, described a case in which, when alone with the governor in her state Capitol office, Mr Cuomo asked her if she thought the age made a difference in romantic relationships, remarks she saw as openings to a sexual relationship.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me and was feeling terribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told The Times. “And I was wondering how I was going to get out of it and I thought that was the end of my job.”
Ms Bennett said she reported the interaction with the governor to her chief of staff and was transferred to another post. She also provided a lengthy statement on the episode to a special attorney for the governor. The Times corroborated Ms Bennett’s account through interviews with friends and family members she recounted about the incidents at the time and a review of contemporary text messages and emails.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr Cuomo described Ms Bennett as a “hardworking and valued member” of her staff and said he respected her “right to speak out”.
“I never made advances towards Ms. Bennett and I never intended to act in an inappropriate manner,” he said.
Another former aide said the governor ‘kissed me on the lips’
Ms Bennett’s accusations came just days after another former administration aide, Lindsey Boylan, elaborated on previous allegations of sexual harassment she had made against the governor.
Ms Boylan, who worked for the state’s economic development agency from 2015 to 2018, published an essay on Wednesday in which she detailed several years of uncomfortable interactions with the governor.
Ms Boylan, who said her boss at the time told her Mr Cuomo had a ‘crush’ on her, said the governor had done ‘everything possible to touch my lower back, arms and legs”. In October 2017, on a flight home from an event in western New York City, Ms Boylan said Mr Cuomo told her they should “play strip poker.” And in 2018, she said Mr. Cuomo gave her an unsolicited kiss after a one-on-one meeting in his Manhattan office.
“As I got up to leave and walk towards an open door, he walked up in front of me and kissed me on the lips,” she wrote. “I was in shock, but kept walking.
The governor’s office said Ms Boylan’s claims were false and did not call for an independent review of her claims.
Ms Boylan, who is running for president in the Manhattan borough, first publicly accused Cuomo of sexual harassment in December, but did not elaborate on details.
After Ms Bennett made her accusations public, Ms Boylan called on Mr Cuomo to resign.
“Her abuse of power never stops,” she wrote. “He does not have the right to choose his judge and jury. We do.”
The governor said he ‘didn’t mean to offend’
Mr Cuomo, who has not held a press conference for a week, said he would not comment on the allegations beyond the statement he released on Saturday following the Times report on Ms. Bennett’s accusations.
On Sunday night, however, following a torrent of criticism, Mr Cuomo released a lengthy written statement in which he lamented making “playful” jokes and teasing employees for what he thought was “good.” mood”.
“I teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, whether or not to get married or not,” said the governor. “I don’t mean to offend you and I’m just trying to add a little levity and joke to what is a very serious business.”
Mr Cuomo, however, said he never touched or proposed anyone inappropriately, but understood, in retrospect, that his interactions “may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in one way or another. I never wanted to.
There are calls for an impartial investigation
Mr Cuomo first said in a statement he would lead a “full and thorough external review” of Ms Bennett’s charges, and appointed a former federal judge, Barbara Jones, to lead the investigation. The move quickly met with backlash, as critics questioned the integrity of his review and the judge’s close ties to one of the governor’s longtime advisers.
The governor’s office backed down the next morning, saying it would instead ask Letitia James, the state attorney general, and Janet DiFiore, the chief justice of the New York Court of Appeals, ” to jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct an in-depth examination of the matter and publish a public report. “
Mr Cuomo’s first attempt to rectify the situation did not quell criticism, however: Ms James and senior Democratic state officials said the governor’s new plan still did not go far enough.
In A declaration, Mrs. James said that she did “not accept the governor’s proposal,” saying his office should be the one leading the investigation. Under state law, she said, her office had to receive an official recommendation from the governor’s office to conduct a review with subpoena power.
“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,” she said. “The governor must provide this referral so that an independent subpoena investigation can be conducted.”
On Sunday evening, the governor’s office effectively said it would grant Ms James’ referral request and ask her office to appoint a private lawyer as a “special independent deputy attorney general” to conduct the investigation.
The political reaction is bipartisan
Elected officials from all walks of life condemned Cuomo and called for an impartial investigation into the two women’s allegations, while some democrats joined many Republicans in demanding the governor’s resignation.
Democratic leaders from both houses of the state legislature said in statements that the allegations deserved “a truly independent investigation.” Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor, who would succeed Mr. Cuomo if he were to step down, also called for an independent review, saying, “Everyone deserves their voice to be heard and taken seriously.”
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in an interview with CNN that President Biden supports an independent investigation into the two women’s allegations.
“It was hard to read this story, as a woman,” she said of The Times story of Ms. Bennett’s experience.
Members of the New York Congressional delegation, including Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, also called for an investigation.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican from Long Island, said Mr. Cuomo “was doing his best to avoid a truly independent investigation” and that “even Cuomo himself must know it’s time to go.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who recently revealed she is a sexual assault survivor, said the two women’s claims were “extremely serious and painful to read.”
“There must be an independent investigation,” she wrote on Twitter. “Not a person headed by someone chosen by the governor, but by the attorney general’s office.”
This isn’t the only scandal Mr. Cuomo faces
The sexual harassment allegations come as Mr. Cuomo faces criticism for the state’s response to coronavirus in nursing homes, federal prosecutors investigating the matter and state lawmakers considering depriving the governor of his powers at the time of the pandemic.
The governor faces allegations his administration has covered the full extent of nursing home deaths following comments made privately earlier this month by one of his top aides, Melissa DeRosa , who admitted to withholding data from nursing homes.
A day after The Times revealed Ms Bennett’s allegations, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for independent inquiries into the allegations of sexual harassment and coronavirus deaths in nursing homes.
“New Yorkers have seen detailed and documented accounts of sexual harassment, multiple instances of bullying and the withholding of information about the deaths of more than 15,000 people,” said Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, in a press release.
“Questions of this magnitude cannot pass over the heads of New Yorkers as we fight a pandemic and an economic crisis,” he said. “What must now happen is clear.”