NEW YORK NOW – Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his most extensive comments since being accused of sexual harassment by two former aides over the past week, released a length statement Sunday evening apologizing for some of his past behavior in the workplace.
Cuomo, in the statement, acknowledged that some of his comments to staffers may have been “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation,” and said he never inappropriately touched anyone.
“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. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” Cuomo 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.”
Minutes before the statement was released, Cuomo’s office referred the claims of sexual harassment to New York Attorney General Letitia James, who he said would appoint a special counsel to review the allegations.
Cuomo has been accused, in recent days, of sexually harassing two former top aides in his administration.
Lindsey Boylan, a former top economic development official in the Cuomo administration, accused the three-term governor of offering to play strip poker with her, paying her an inappropriate amount of attention, and trying to kiss her.
Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant under Cuomo, told the New York Times Saturday that Cuomo had asked her deeply personal questions about her relationships and her sex life. Bennett has interpreted the comments as Cuomo’s way of coming on to her.
Neither women work in the Cuomo administration anymore. Boylan, who’s running for Manhattan borough president, said her interactions with Cuomo happened in 2017, while Bennett dated hers to last year, during the height of the pandemic.
Cuomo, in his statement, said he never became physical with either woman, but admitted that he enjoyed “playful” banter at the office and could see how that language could be interpreted as inappropriate.
“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times,” Cuomo said.
“I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”
Now, the allegations will be in the hands of New York Attorney General Letitia James, who was once considered a Cuomo ally, but has since lost that label over a controversial report her office issued last month, claiming the state had undercounted COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes.
James, in a statement, said her office will appoint an independent, nonpolitical law firm to serve as a special counsel to investigate the probe under a section of state law related to the executive branch.
That section of law grants the special counsel the power to subpoena witnesses, and obtain documents and communications relative to the matter, which is what James had asked for earlier in the day Sunday.
“We expect to receive a 63(8) referral with subpoena power to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, in line with our demands and New York state law. The referral would be made solely to the attorney general’s office,” James said.
“This is not a responsibility we take lightly. We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation.”
James had rejected a previous proposal from the Cuomo administration Sunday, when the governor’s office asked her to select a special counsel to lead a review with Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who was appointed by the governor.
Democrats in the state Legislature had also rejected that proposal, and had called for an investigation to be done by an attorney out of Cuomo’s reach. His latest concession appears to grant that request.
Cuomo has publicly denied the claims from Boylan, but has characterized Bennett’s allegations as a misunderstanding rather than denying them outright.