Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has finally addressed the multiple sexual harassment accusations against him. Cuomo denies the allegations made by two women who previously worked for him. “Some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation,” Cuomo claims.
“I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm,” he said in a statement released on Sunday.
“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny,” Cuomo continued. “I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way.”
“I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married,” he went on. “I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”
The second woman to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, claims that Cuomo asked her if she was romantically involved with someone and if she was monogamous during her relationships.
Cuomo, 63, said he wanted to be a mentor for Bennett.
“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,” Cuomo said.
He tried to apologize to those who “misinterpreted” him, saying, “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 also said that he “never inappropriately touched anybody” and “never propositioned anybody.”
Bennett told the New York Times that “He also asked me in the same conversation if I had ever been with an older man.”
Lindsey Boylan, Cuomo’s other victim, said that the governor kissed her on the lips without consent, touched her legs, and joked about playing strip poker. She said the harassment went on for years.
“These are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to,” Cuomo said. “That’s why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations.”
Last week, Cuomo himself hand-picked former U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones to carry out the independent investigation, but went back on that decision after backlash. Jones was a former law partner to one of Cuomo’s closest advisors, Steve Cohen, which could be seen as a conflict of interest.
Cuomo released a new statement saying that New York State Attorney General Letitia James (D) and the chief judge of the court of appeals, Janet DiFiore, would work together to select an “independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review and issue a public report.”
“We had selected former Federal Judge Barbara Jones, with a stellar record for qualifications and integrity, but we want to avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics,” Cuomo said. “The work product will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge.”
James issued her own statement on the independent investigation:
“The state’s Executive Law clearly gives my office the authority to investigate this matter once the governor provides a referral. While I have deep respect for Chief Judge DiFiore, I am the duly elected attorney general and it is my responsibility to carry out this task, per Executive Law. The governor must provide this referral so an independent investigation with subpoena power can be conducted.”