“There must be an independent investigation—not one led by an individual selected by the Governor, but by the office of the Attorney General.”
That was the reaction Sunday morning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) following a second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo coming forward Saturday with accusations of sexual harassment and after the governor in response announced a state investigation into the claims would be led by hand-picked choice: Barbara Jones, a former judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Just days after Lindsay Boylan issued a detailed account of the sexual harassment and abuse—including an unwanted kiss—by Cuomo, a second former staffer, Charlotte Bennett, came forward publicly Saturday to say that she too was a victim of Cuomo’s behavior.
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
As the New York Times reports, Ocasio-Cortez is not the only lawmaker in the state raising concerns about Cuomo being the one to pick the lead investigator of a probe into his alleged behavior:
Many of those elected officials — including the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly—seemed skeptical of Mr. Cuomo’s decision to appoint a former federal judge with close ties to one of Mr. Cuomo’s longtime allies to conduct a “full and thorough outside review.”
“I believe the Attorney General should make an appointment to ensure that it is a truly independent investigation,” Carl E. Heastie, the Assembly speaker, wrote on Twitter, referring to the state attorney general, Letitia James.
A small handful of lawmakers from the Democratic Party’s leftmost flank joined with some Republicans to demand that Mr. Cuomo immediately resign.
Cuomo—far from resigning—has denied the accusations levied by Boylan and Bennett, and on Saturday issued a statement in support of a probe.
“I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate,” Cuomo said. “This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press. I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review, and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort.”
But critics say it’s outlandish that Cuomo should have any say over how the probe is conducted.
“With all due respect, you can’t pick a federal judge who works with your good friend and decide that that’s going to be the investigator,” said State Sen. Liz Krueger, who represents Manhattan.
State Senator Jessica Ramos (D-13) issued a statement late Saturday also calling for a truly independent review.
“Charlotte Bennett’s accounts of sexual harassment are believable,” said Ramos. “So are Lindsay Boylan’s. We must listen to women when they bravely come forward and investigate fully.”
Like others, Ramos said any investigation “must be completely separate and wall-off from the Governor, his office, his Administration, or any oversight panel where he makes appointments or wields influence.”
“Nothing but a completely independent investigation of these credible allegations of sexual harassment in the office of the Governor is acceptable,” she said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James also weighed in Sunday.
“Allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” James said in a tweet. “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.”
“Given state law,” she continued, “this can only be accomplished through an official referral from the governor’s office and must include subpoena power. I urge the governor to make this referral immediately.”
The charges of sexual misconduct and harassment come as Gov. Cuomo is also under fire for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York, including efforts he made to insulate nursing home operators from liability protections even as residents in such facilities were at deadly risk from the spread of the virus last year.