Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday asked New York's Attorney General Letitia James and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to appoint an investigator to review sexual harassment allegations leveled against the governor by former aides. 

What You Need To Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked New York's attorney general and chief judge to appoint an investigator to review sexual harassment allegations leveled against him by formal aides

  • Lamakers in both parties and anti-sexual harassment advocates had criticized the selection of former Judge Barbara Jones to lead the investigation of claims by former aide Charlotte Bennett

  • Other prominent figures, including White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, progressive New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, have called for a transparent, independent investigation 

The proposal came moments after the attorney generals' office called on the governor to issue a referral to appoint an investigator with the ability to issue subpoenas. 

By Sunday afternoon, James rejected the joint appointment out of hand, saying in a statement a formal referral is needed to have full subpoena power.

“To clarify, I do not accept the governor’s proposal," she said. "The state’s Executive Law clearly gives my office the authority to investigate this matter once the governor provides a referral. 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. The governor must provide this referral so an independent investigation with subpoena power can be conducted.”

Top lawmakers, as well as rank-and-file members of the Legislature, also rejected the proposed arrangement less than a full day after the second allegations surfaced against Cuomo. 

The move comes after state lawmakers in both parties and anti-sexual harassment advocates had criticized the selection of former Judge Barbara Jones to lead the investigation of claims by Charlotte Bennett, a former aide who detailed to The New York Times Cuomo had made a series of inappropriate comments to her; Cuomo has denied the allegations.

Bennett is the second former aide in the last week to come forward with specific allegations against Cuomo. On Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, a former economic development official and now candidate for Manhattan borough president, alleged in a blog post that the governor sexually harassed her and gave her an unwanted kiss while in his New York City office. Cuomo has denied these allegations. 

Earlier Sunday, AG James released her own statement calling for her office to be given the referral to appoint an investigator with subpoena power.

"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," she wrote.

Cuomo administration officials had defended Jones' qualifications amid the deepening crisis engulfing the governor. A former federal judge, Jones had served as the chairwoman of Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel, a body created by Congress to assess how sexual assaults in the military are adjudicated.

But in addition to her being named by the governor's office, lawmakers critical of the decision pointed to her ties to Steve Cohen, a longtime advisor to the governor who now serves as the top official at the Empire State Development Corp., and was recently brought in to oversee the response to the ongoing controversy surrounding nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Both of the state's top legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, called for a "truly independent investigation."

Other prominent figures have called for independent investigations, including White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, progressive New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

"As has become standard practice in the State of New York when allegations relate directly to the Executive, Governor Cuomo should refer the matter to the Attorney General, who should, in turn, appoint an independent investigator," Nadler wrote in a statement.

"Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett’s detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read," Rep. Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter on Sunday. "There must be an independent investigation - not one led by an individual selected by the Governor, but by the office of the Attorney General."

"President Biden has been consistent that he believes that every woman should be heard, should be treated with respect, and with dignity," Psaki told CNN's Dana Bash on Sunday. "Charlotte should be treated with respect and dignity, so should Lindsey, and there should be an independent review looking into these allegations, and that's certainly something he supports and we believe should move forward as quickly as possible."

"[Biden] believes that every woman should be treated with dignity and respect. They should be able to tell their story. There should be an independent review of these allegations, they're serious," Psaki added. "It was hard to read that story as a woman."

Both of New York's members of the U.S. Senate have also weighed in.

"Sen. Schumer has said many times that sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated, and that any credible allegation should be thoroughly investigated," a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said.

"There must be an independent, transparent and swift investigation into these serious and deeply concerning allegations," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement.

Bronx Rep. Jamaal Bowman said that "Cuomo should recuse himself entirely from this process and task the NYS Attorney General to facilitate the probe."

Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and Grace Meng (D-NY) also joined the chorus of voices calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the embattled governor. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement on Sunday morning calling on the state legislature to revoke the governor’s emergency powers, and for two independent investigations to be launched: one looking into coronavirus nursing homes deaths, and the other into personal misconduct allegations.

"New Yorkers have seen detailed, documented accounts of sexual harassment, multiple instances of intimidation, and the admitted withholding of information on the deaths of over 15,000 people," said de Blasio in the statement.

On Sunday, 25 Democratic women in the state Assembly also called for an independent investigator as well: "No person accused of sexual harassment should choose who investigates those allegations."

"We are asking that Governor Cuomo immediately make an official referral to Attorney General Letitia James to appoint an independent investigator," the lawmakers said, adding added: "If their allegations prove credible, the Governor must be held accountable."​

Some lawmakers, including State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican, have gone as far as to call on Cuomo to resign.