Governor admits 'playful' acts may have been misconstrued; office asks AG James to select lawyer for allegations review |

Governor admits 'playful' acts may have been misconstrued; office asks AG James to select lawyer for allegations review

Updated: February 28, 2021 11:42 PM
Created: February 28, 2021 05:55 PM

ALBANY, N.Y. (WHEC) — Governor Andrew Cuomo released a new statement about allegations as his office requested that New York State Attorney General Letitia James select a private lawyer to perform an independent review of allegations of sexual harassment.

In his statement, Governor Cuomo admitted that he at work can sometimes be "playful and make jokes", and that he does often tease people about their personal lives, adding that some of those interactions could have made others feel in ways he never intended. The full statement is below:

"Questions have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office. 
"I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm. I spend most of my life at work and colleagues are often also personal friends. 
"At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business. 
"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. 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. 
"To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to. 
"That's why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations. 

"Separately, my office has heard anecdotally that some people have reached out to Ms. Bennett to express displeasure about her coming forward. My message to anyone doing that is you have misjudged what matters to me and my administration and you should stop now - period." 

"I'm not surprised this happens in politics," says Assemblywoman Sarah Clark. "There's a lot of power structures that allow this to happen and not a lot of processes to protect women and give them a voice."

Clark, who has worked in government for over two decades, adds "if you speak up then you're kind of not a go along, get along kind of person or you might be labeled as difficult, and if you don't speak up you start to feel really uncomfortable."

The move by his office to request Attorney General James to select an independent lawyer appears to go further from an earlier request that James and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals jointly pick out someone to run an investigation. James pushed back on that request when it was made.

Even before the since-rejected request to have James work with the Chief Judge to select an investigator, the Governor's Office had said that a former federal judge, Barbara Jones, would conduct an investigation, which raised concerns from many about how independent it would actually be. 

"The idea that the [Barbara Jones] was going to be independent certainly raised a lot of eyebrows because they had both served in the Clinton administration and probably knew each other very well," says Tim Kneeland, professor of history and politics at Nazareth College. 

"When it comes to politics, you want someone who is gonna look at the evidence with very fresh eyes, someone who doesn't have a history with the individual being investigated," he adds.

Any investigation by Attorney General James may be a cause for concern for the governor, says Judge Thomas Van Strydonck, a former State Supreme Court Judge. 

"I think that that causes the governor some heartburn since his experience with the attorney general's office has recently not been pleasant," he says. 

"In his book, he wrote 'giving up control is not something I've done often in my life,'" says Van Strydonck. "Anyone who's had experience with Governor Cuomo will tell you that he is a bit of a control freak."

Kneeland agrees with the assessment.

"For years, we've heard, even when he was attorney general, that this was a very difficult personality, very pugnacious," he says.

In the statement by Special Counsel Beth Garvey, the governor's office says it will cooperate fully and voluntarily with the investigation.

The full statement from Garvey is below:

"The Governor's office wants a thorough and independent review that is above reproach and beyond political interference.  Therefore, the Governor's office has asked Attorney General Tish James to select a qualified private lawyer to do an independent review of allegations of sexual harassment.  The independent lawyer will be legally designated as a Special Independent Deputy Attorney General and granted all powers provided under Section 63(8) of the Executive Law.  As necessary, other lawyers from the appointed lawyer's firm shall be similarly designated to assist in the review. The lawyer shall report publicly their findings.   The Governor's office will voluntarily cooperate fully." 

In her latest statement, AG James implied that her office has not yet received a formal request, but said that they will be ready when they do:

“We expect to receive a 63(8) referral with subpoena power to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, in line with our demands and New York state law. The referral would be made solely to the attorney general's office. This is not a responsibility we take lightly. We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation.”

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