Faced with an escalating backlash following two allegations of sexual harassment in less than a week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday acknowledged that some of his comments in the workplace “may have been insensitive or too personal” and said he was “truly sorry” to those who might have “misinterpreted (the remarks) as an unwanted flirtation.”
But Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, also maintained that he never inappropriately touched or propositioned anyone, denying the allegation of a former aide that he had kissed her on the lips after a one-on-one briefing.
The governor’s statement capped a whirlwind 24 hours that began with a new accusation on Saturday of sexual harassment and growing calls from prominent New York Democrats for an independent investigation into the allegations. His efforts to guide that process also unraveled after the state attorney general, Letitia James, rejected Cuomo’s proposal that she and the New York’s chief judge jointly select an independent attorney to conduct “a thorough and independent review” of the claims against him. Instead, James insisted that the process be free from any perception of interference by the governor or his allies. To do that, she said, her office requested an official referral that would provide the investigation — which will be handled by an outside law firm — subpoena power.
In backing down from his initial positions, Cuomo — who over a decade in office has kept a powerful grip on the workings of the state government — signaled an understanding of the severity of a scandal that could threaten his job and prospects for reelection next year to a fourth term. The new accusation drew attention from top state elected officials and a call, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” from White House press secretary Jen Psaki for “an independent review of these allegations.” Psaki called them “serious” and said, of the second accusation, it had been “hard to read that story, as a woman.”
Cuomo’s office had initially selected former federal Judge Barbara Jones to investigate claims of sexual harassment made against the governor by two female former aides, but the choice was publicly rejected by several high-profile New York Democrats, who argued that Cuomo should have no role in shaping the probe.
Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior adviser to the governor, in a statement earlier Sunday then asked James and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to choose “an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation” to conduct a “thorough review” and issue a report on the matter in an effort to “avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics.”