New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked the US state’s attorney general and a senior judge to pick a lawyer to lead an independent investigation into recent sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Cuomo, whose daily COVID-19 briefings earned him national attention in the United States, has faced calls to step down after reports surfaced that he did not release the full coronavirus-related death toll in New York elderly care homes.
Two of Cuomo’s former aides also recently came forward to accuse the governor of sexual harassment.
“Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett’s detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read,” US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents a New York district, tweeted on Sunday, calling for an independent investigation.
Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett’s detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read.
There must be an independent investigation – not one led by an individual selected by the Governor, but by the office of the Attorney General.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 28, 2021
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told CNN programme State of the Union that US President Joe Biden supported such a probe.
Other Democratic legislators, including New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and New York City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, have gone further and called for Cuomo to resign.
The New York governor, who has denied any wrongdoing in both cases, initially ordered what he said would be a “full and thorough outside review” led by a former federal judge.
But on Sunday, Cuomo’s office said it wanted to avoid “even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics”.
It said the governor had asked New York Attorney General Letitia James and Janet DiFiore, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, to select an independent lawyer to conduct a thorough review and issue a public report.
In a statement, James called on Cuomo to make an official referral so she could launch an independent investigation into the sexual harassment claims that will have “subpoena power”.
“To clarify, I do not accept the governor’s proposal,” James 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.”
In a statement later on Sunday addressing the allegations against him, Cuomo said he “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm”, but said he sometimes “makes jokes” and teased people at work.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said.
New statement from NY Governor Andrew Cuomo in response to sexual harassment allegation(s). pic.twitter.com/RX1zGQfWKf
— Gabriel Elizondo (@elizondogabriel) February 28, 2021
“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.”