New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Monday that she has received a referral letter to move forward with an independent investigation into sexual harassment allegations made against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo by former members of his staff.
"This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously," James said after lawmakers on both sides of the aisles in New York and Washington D.C. called for a probe into Cuomo. All New York state employees have reportedly been directed to cooperate with the investigation.
Charlotte Bennet, a former staffer in the Cuomo administration, alleged that the governor had directly asked her about her sex life, which she interpreted as a sexual overture. A second allegation was made against Cuomo by former staffer Lindsey Boylan, who is now running for the Manhattan borough president. Boylan, who had worked for Cuomo as an economic development advisor, revealed in a blog post on Wednesday that Cuomo had made sexually charged comments to her and subjected her to a non-consensual kiss.
On Sunday, Cuomo officially apologized for any comments that "have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation." Cuomo alleged that he only teased his staffers about their personal lives to be "playful" and denied ever making any advances upon either of his former staffers.
Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," White House press secretary Jen Psaki expressed President Joe Biden's support for an "independent review" of the allegations made against Cuomo. "They're serious," she said. "It was hard to read that story as a woman. And that process should move forward as quickly as possible, and that's something we all support and the president supports."
Psaki's statement comes just after Cuomo backed down from attempting to dictate the terms of his own investigation. On Saturday, the Governor announced that the administration had tapped Judge Barbara Jones to lead the inquiry, drawing sharp criticism from both state and federal lawmakers, as Jones had previously worked with Steve Cohen, one of Cuomo's advisors. On Sunday, Cuomo finally ceded to calls for an independent probe by allowing Attorney General Letitia James to appoint an outside investigator.
"I'm glad to see that there will be a full, independent, and thorough investigation," former New York state senator and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. "These stories are difficult to read, and the allegations brought forth raise serious questions that the women who have come forward and all New Yorkers deserve answers to."
"Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett's detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read," wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, on Twitter. "There must be an independent investigation — not one led by an individual selected by the Governor, but by the office of the Attorney General."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who spearheaded an inquiry into the sexual assault allegations made against former Sen. Al Franken, echoed Ocasio-Cortez. ""These allegations are serious and deeply concerning," said on Sunday. "As requested by Attorney General James, the matter should be referred to her office so that she can conduct a transparent, independent and thorough investigation with subpoena power."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also joined the chorus of condemnation and expressed that he backed James' effort to assign to an independent investigator. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the allegations "credible."
State-level officials have been more strident about the allegations, some even calling for the Governor to step down.
On Saturday, New York state Senator Alessandra Biaggi, D, stated in a press release, "While a truly independent investigation may uncover more evidence or instances of abuse, the existing details are sufficient for me to form my conclusion," adding, "As a New Yorkers, a legislator, Chair of the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee, and a survivor of sexual abuse, I am calling for Governor Cuomo to resign."
Mayor Bill De Blasio called for Cuomo to be stripped of his pandemic emergency powers as the investigation is underway.