On Saturday, hours after a second former aide accused him of sexual harassment this week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo called for a “full and thorough outside review” of his behavior in the incidents. However, many state politicians were skeptical of the “outside” nature of this inquiry, which would have been run by an official picked by his office: former U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, who was once a partner at a law firm with one of Cuomo’s top advisers.
After that plan was roundly condemned as insufficient, the governor proposed a second option, outlining an inquiry in which Cuomo appointee and Chief Judge of the State of New York Janet DiFiore would work with New York Attorney General Letitia James to choose a law firm to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment. But after James and other New York politicians, including the top leaders of the state legislature, announced their opposition to this plan, Cuomo fully ceded control of the inquiry to the attorney general’s office. “This is not a responsibility we take lightly,” James said upon the development, which will allow her office to subpoena documents and witness testimony. “We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation.”
The turning over of the inquiry was not the only point of concession on Sunday from a governor known for his fixation on control and his refusal to back down. After an initial denial of former aide Lindsey Boylan’s allegations of sexual harassment on Wednesday, Cuomo offered a passive, more universal apology on Sunday. “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 said in a statement. “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 past week has sunk the Cuomo administration — already navigating scandals surrounding political bullying and an alleged attempt to obscure the number of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes — into a crisis. On Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, a former vice-president at Empire State Development, accused the governor of repeated sexual harassment and kissing her without her consent before she resigned from the administration in 2018. On Saturday, Charlotte Bennett, an executive assistant and health-policy adviser until her resignation in November, alleged that the governor asked her about her sex life in what “she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship,” as the New York Times reports. “I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the paper. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”