Cuomo Accuser’s Lawyer Complains of Governor’s ‘Interference’
(Bloomberg) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo may be interfering with an independent investigation into sexual-harassment allegations overseen by the state’s attorney general by connecting his staff to hand-picked lawyers, a lawyer for one of the governor’s accusers said.
Debra Katz, who represents former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett, said the governor’s decision to provide in-house lawyers to interview staffers before and after they meet with outside investigators -- as well as accompany them to the meetings -- has a “chilling effect” on potential witnesses and will impede the investigation. Katz issued the warning in a letter to New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday.
Katz asked the AG’s office to direct Cuomo to halt any meddling in the outside investigation being led by former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim and employment lawyer Anne Clark so the inquiry will be “fair and untainted.”
Kim and Clark were appointed this month to lead the investigation of Cuomo, who has been accused of sexual harassment and other misconduct by more than half a dozen women. Cuomo has denied the allegations and handed the AG full subpoena power for the investigation, whose findings are expected to be released in a public report. Despite a growing number of calls to resign by dozens of members of his own party, Cuomo has said he doesn’t intend to step down.
Last week, Cuomo’s office hired a group of outside lawyers, including New Jersey’s former top federal prosecutor, to advise staffers in the state’s Executive Chamber. The Chamber includes many members of the governor’s inner circle, including secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa, as well as Cuomo’s chief of staff, director of state operations and infrastructure, and director of state policy.
Katz said the Executive Chamber’s decision will prevent potential witnesses and other accusers from coming forward for fear of job-related retaliation and prevent a fair probe.
“This is highly improper and we object in the strongest possible terms to this obvious interference with what you have stated would be a ‘thorough and independent’ investigation,” Katz said in her letter to James.
The AG’s office declined to comment.
Cuomo’s office said it wasn’t forcing employees to do anything and if they wanted to get their own counsel they could.
“Employees have been advised that, if they want to be represented by a lawyer in this matter, they may choose private counsel or the outside counsel that is representing the Chamber,” Beth Garvey, Cuomo’s acting counsel, said in a statement.
Bennett, 25, accused the governor of asking her questions about her sex life and other intimidating behavior while she was working for him, an account detailed in an interview published last month by the New York Times.
Katz on Monday also asked James to issue a public statement rebutting a published report that the attorney general had directed Cuomo’s Executive Chamber to conduct its own “parallel” probe into allegations Cuomo groped an unidentified aide in the executive mansion last year. The Albany Times Union first reported that senior Cuomo aides said they’re conducting their own review of a female aide’s claims.
Without such a public statement, Katz warned, the governor’s “unauthorized parallel investigation will continue to undermine the legitimacy of the thorough, independent investigation being conducted by your office.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.