After largely remaining silent after months of criticism from Andrew Cuomo and his team over her investigation that brought down the former governor, Attorney General Letitia James went on the offensive on Wednesday.
Speaking at a breakfast event held by the Association for a Better New York, she responded to Cuomo’s suggestion that she had a political motive in deciding to open the investigation that led to the damning 165-page report corroborating the harassment accusations against him. Cuomo and his allies suggested James was out to get Cuomo and take his job as governor. “The attorney general’s report was designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic, and it worked,” Cuomo said in his final address as governor.
“Since that report came out, the former governor has spent a lot of energy criticizing it and me,” James said on Wednesday. “Until now, I’ve chosen to take the high road. I’ve chosen not to respond in detail. But that changes today.”
James made a direct comparison between her investigation and a probe into then-Governor Eliot Spitzer helmed by Cuomo when he was attorney general more than a decade ago. Cuomo’s office investigated Spitzer over his use of the state police for political means, which weakened the first-term governor, who later resigned from office following an unrelated scandal involving an escort service.
“My office began this investigation based on a lawful referral from the governor,” James said, referring to Cuomo handing the sexual-harassment probe to her earlier this year, after he first attempted to name his own investigator. “By contrast, Mr. Cuomo did not wait for such a referral when he investigated then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. My office appointed outside independent investigators. By contrast, Mr. Cuomo used his own staff.”
James then took aim at Cuomo directly, suggesting he lacks personal accountability for his own actions.
“Mr. Cuomo has a lot to say on these matters, but he has never taken responsibility for his own conduct. He has never held himself accountable for how his behavior affected our state government,” James said. “So let’s not lose sight of what’s important. It’s not me. It’s not Mr. Cuomo but the survivors of his harassment, the people of our state whose trust he broke and the people who believed in him, including myself. No one is above the law, and our state can do better moving forward.”
When asked for comment, Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, referred Intelligencer back to a statement he released as the speech was ongoing: “As I’ve said, it should raise serious red flags that the AG and her staff duck every time specific questions about omissions and inaccuracies in the AG’s report are raised. The public deserves specific answers from the AG as to the credibility of her report — especially while she mulls a run for Governor.”
When asked directly if she intended to run for higher office next year, James did not answer specifically. “I am focusing on my work, putting my head down, serving all of you as the attorney general,” she said.
If James were to jump into the gubernatorial race, she would be joining a growing Democratic field. Earlier this week, Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, told Intelligencer he is exploring a run. Meanwhile, Governor Kathy Hochul, who succeeded Cuomo, has made it clear that she will run for a full term next year.