Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday tried to explain away allegations of sexual harassment as “jokes” that were misinterpreted as “unwanted flirtation” — as his office caved on the state attorney general’s request to solely appoint an investigator to probe claims from two former staffers.
“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,” said Cuomo in a prepared statement.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
The statement came one day after former Cuomo staffer Charlotte Bennett, 25, alleged to the New York Times that the 63-year-old governor made a series of inappropriate remarks that left her convinced he “wanted to sleep with” her.
“To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable,” he said. “But these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”
Cuomo’s statement was issued minutes after his special counsel and senior adviser Beth Garvey blinked first in an hours-long back-and-forth with state Attorney General Letitia James over how to investigate the allegations.
“The Governor’s office wants a thorough and independent review that is above reproach and beyond political interference,” said Garvey in a statement. “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.”
James on Sunday morning requested that Cuomo’s administration grant her office the sole authority to appoint an independent investigator with subpoena powers.
The Cuomo administration — which on Saturday tapped former federal Judge Barbara Jones to the inquiry, a move widely panned because Jones once worked with former top Cuomo aide Steve Cohen — responded, however, with a counter offer.
Garvey said that James’ office could work in conjunction with top state appeals Judge Janet DiFiore — a Cuomo appointee — to agree on an investigator.
James fired back that, under state law, her office holds the sole authority to appoint an independent investigator.
As pressure mounted, Cuomo buckled.
“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,” Garvey’s latest statement continued.
“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.”