Second woman accuses Governor Cuomo of sexual harassment

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A second woman has accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. Speaking to the New York Times, former aide Charlotte Bennett, 25, claims the Governor asked her if she was monogamous and if she had ever been with an older man.

The former health policy advisor also makes claims the 63-year-old Governor said he was “open to relationships with women in their 20s.”

On February 28, one day after Bennett’s allegations were published Cuomo released a statement in which he acknowledged that some of his actions may be: “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”

While not addressing individual incidents or allegations, Cuomo said that in the work environment, he is sometimes “playful” and makes “jokes” he thinks are funny.

The Governor admitted to teasing people: “about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married,” and insists he meant no offense.

He then goes on to claim he now understands he may have been “insensitive or too personal” and apologised.

“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.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo still denies any inappropriate physical contact or making any propositions.

Politicians across both the state and country commented on the allegations after they broke on Saturday evening. Some called for the Governor to be investigated, others called for his immediate resignation. Parallels have also been drawn with Cuomo and his team’s conduct in other instances, such as the ongoing nursing home scandal.

Cuomo’s own proposed review into the new accusations was shot down by lawmakers on both sides. A second proposal: that the state Attorney General and Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals appoint an independent attorney to oversee an investigation also seems to have been rejected.

Attorney General James issued a further statement on Sunday requesting a referral with subpoena powers so her office can conduct its own investigation into the matter.

New accusations

On Feb 24, Bennett posted a tweet quoting Cuomo’s initial accuser and appearing to support her claims.

In the Times article, Bennett claims to have initially gotten along well with Governor Cuomo, looked at him as a “father figure” and bonded over things like their mutual connection with Westchester County. Cuomo had even pointed out that Bennett “played middle-school soccer against one of his daughters” who is a similar age.

It says that initially, Cuomo asked questions about Bennett’s “dating life” that “seemed inappropriate but not necessarily unmanageable.”

The topics of conversation eventually moved on to whether Bennett “was monogamous in her relationships” and “had ever had sex with older men.” the Times said.

References Cuomo allegedly made to age differences in relationships are recurrent throughout the story.

Governor Cuomo’s response

In response to the article, Governor Cuomo issued a statement calling Ms. Bennett “a hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID” and saying she has “every right to speak out.”

Cuomo says he tried to be supportive of Ms. Bennett when she opened up to him about being a sexual assault survivor and its effects on her. He also claims he attempted to be “a mentor to her” and denies making any advances or intention of acting inappropriately.

He goes on to ask people to await the findings of a review into his conduct before making any judgement.

Governor Cuomo’s full statement is as follows:

“Ms. Bennett was a hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID. She has every right to speak out.

When she came to me and opened up about being a sexual assault survivor and how it shaped her and her ongoing efforts to create an organization that empowered her voice to help other survivors, I tried to be supportive and helpful. Ms. Bennett’s initial impression was right: I was trying to be a mentor to her. I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.

This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press; I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort. I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgements. I will have no further comment until the review has concluded.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo

Review into the Governor’s conduct

Former federal judge Barbara Jones, who was appointed to the bench in 1995 by President Bill Clinton, was Governor Cuomo’s initial choice to head a review into the allegations made by Bennett.

However, officials were quick to cast doubt on Judge Jones’ fitness to lead the investigation. Her connection with Cuomo, mainly through her links with Steve Cohen who was once the Governor’s most senior advisor, were flagged as a potential conflict of interest.

Chair of the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee, Alessandra Biaggi, said:

“The current review, arranged by the Governor’s team and overseen by an individual who has a work history with his close associates, does not meet any standard of independence.”

State Senator Joseph Griffo also highlighted her “former association with Steve Cohen” as an issue.

The Governor has acknowledged the need for an outside review. However, the administration’s selection of former federal Judge Barbara Jones, who has an excellent reputation and is highly respected, but with a former association with Steve Cohen, former secretary and most recent defender of the Governor, could obfuscate the issue especially when there are bipartisan calls for a true independent investigation.”

Sen. Joseph Griffo, (R) NY 47th District

Following the criticism, Beth Garvey issued a second statement claiming they had selected Judge Jones: “with a stellar record for qualifications and integrity” but now want to avoid “even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics.”

The Governor’s office has now asked Attorney General James and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals to jointly select an “independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation” to conduct the review into the allegations against Cuomo.

Garvey said all members of the Governor’s office will co-operate fully with the investigation.

Attorney General James has also requested a referral including subpoena powers from the Governor so she can “oversee that investigation and make any appointments necessary.”

The Attorney General went on to release a subsequent statement, making it clear she rejects the Governor’s proposal of an investigation headed by an independent attorney.

Attorney General James says her office has the authority to investigate the matter once the Governor provides a referral.

“To clarify, I do not accept the Governor’s proposal. 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.”

Attorney General Letitia James

On Sunday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand released a statement backing the Attorney General’s request to lead the investigation.

“These allegations are serious and deeply concerning. As requested by Attorney General James, the matter should be referred to her office so that she can conduct a transparent, independent and thorough investigation with subpoena power.”

Kirsten Gillibrand

In response to Attorney General James the Governor’s Special Counsel Beth Garvey again claimed the Governor’s office wants a “thorough and independent” review. Garvey says the private 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.”

“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.”

Beth Garvey

The Attorney General then released a statement in response to the Governor announcing he would grant her request for a referral to investigate allegations of sexual harassment.

James did add that they will hire and deputize a law firm but argues the referral should be made “solely to the attorney general’s office”

“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.”

Attorney General Letitia James

In early June, Bennett had a meeting with Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers where she recounted her interactions with the Governor.

Bennett claims DesRosiers said: “How can we do this?, referring to her either staying in the executive branch or moving to another part of state government.

Two days after the meeting, Bennett was told she would be transferred to a new job in a different part of the state Capitol.

Bennett said two months into the new job, she met with Cuomo’s special advisor Judith Mogul and repeated her claims before eventually deciding to “let this go and move on.”

She eventually left state government altogether in fall 2020.

Senior advisor and special counsel to the Governor Beth Garvey acknowledged both the complaint and the transfer had occurred. Garvey issued a statement on how the administration initially handled Bennett’s concerns.

She said: “were treated with sensitivity and respect and in accordance with applicable law and policy.”

She goes on to claim Bennett was transferred by request to a “position in which she had expressed a long-standing interest” when the matter was escalated.

The statement claims that during a thorough debriefing “on the facts”, Bennett made no claims of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct.

“The determination reached based on the information Ms Bennett provided was that no further action was required which was consistent with Ms Bennett’s wishes.”

Beth Garvey, Senior Advisor and Special Counsel to the Governor

Garvey also added that: “There are no limits on the scope of Judge Jones’ review.”

Initial sexual harassment allegations

On February 24, another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, published an article detailing the alleged sexual harassment she suffered while working under Andrew Cuomo. The article expanded on the claims she made against The Governor in December 2020.

Boylan says her career was strained by the inappropriate treatment, which extended to other women in the government of New York. She also claims to have faced hostility from members of Cuomo’s senior team when she “spoke up for herself.”

Following the second accusations, Boylan tweeted the message “you are not going to destroy or derail any more lives” at the Governor’s account.

Several hours later, Boylan tweeted again saying:

“Andrew Cuomo wouldn’t understand the concept of mentorship if it punched him in the face. He grooms women to feel like they have no way out. That’s the training he does.”

Similarities with other allegations

Similarities between Boylan and Bennett’s accusations mainly center on the language the Governor used when speaking to the women.

Boylan opens the post she made on February 24 with a suggestion Governor Cuomo allegedly made that they “play strip poker.”

Bennett’s accusations center around a variety of times the Governor allegedly made lewd or suggestive comments to her.

Boylan directly talked about being uncomfortable being left alone with the Governor, writing:

“I worried that I would be left alone with the Governor. I didn’t know why I was there. Or how it would end.”

Whereas The New York Times claims Bennett described her move to a new role following her transfer as: “still with the administration, but just not interacting with him.”

A key difference is, Boylan described the Governor repeatedly engaging in physical contact with her including: “kissing her on the lips” and going “out of his way” to touch her “lower back, arms and legs.” Conversely, Bennett told the New York Times that “Cuomo never tried to touch her.”

Boylan’s claims that member’s of Cuomo and his team’s use aggressive tactics to suppress people speaking out against the Governor’s conduct have also been paralleled by a number of political figures during the ongoing nursing home scandal. Bill De Blasio, Assemblyman Ron Kim, and Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin are among those accusing the Governor’s team of attempting to intimidate them.

Response from lawmakers

New York State political figures have been quick to respond to the new accusations. Some expressed support for the women making the accusations directly, while others addressed victims as a group. Calls for action ranged between bipartisan support for a review into Cuomo’s conduct, to demands for his immediate resignation.

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik issued a hard-hitting statement describing Cuomo as a “criminal sexual predator” and calling for his immediate resignation. The Congresswoman goes on to say:

“Governor Cuomo’s sickening workplace sexual harassment and grooming of Ms. Bennett is so horrific it makes your skin crawl.”

Lawler says the new accusation is “consistent” with the previous one, and suggests it “reveals predatory sexual behavior on the part of the Governor.”

“It takes bravery and courage for victims to come forward with their horrific experiences facing sexual harassment, sexual grooming, and sexual abuse from Governor Cuomo. Governor Cuomo is a criminal sexual predator and he must immediately resign.

I was one of the first and one of the only elected officials to call on the Governor to resign on Dec 14th. Today, it’s time for other New York State leaders to grow a spine. The New York Times article recounting Governor Cuomo’s sickening workplace sexual harassment and grooming of Ms. Bennett is so horrific it makes your skin crawl.”

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik

The congresswoman also tweeted criticizing the current review into the Governor’s conduct.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described the women’s accounts as “extremely serious and painful to read” before calling for an independent investigation.

In addition to criticizing the current review into the Governor, State senator and Chair of the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee, Alessandra Biaggi, directly commended Bennett and Boylan for speaking out.

Sen. Biaggi pointed out the Governor did not deny making the alleged comments, which she described as “horrifying” and “They are the epitome of a hostile work environment.”

She also joined calls for the Governor to resign. Her full statement reads:

“The assertions against Governor Andrew M. Cuomo by Charlotte Bennett detail behavior that is unacceptable. I am especially horrified by the comments the Governor made to Charlotte about her experience with sexual assault –– comments he did not deny making. They are the epitome of a hostile work environment.

I commend the courage of Ms. Bennett and Lindsey Boylan for coming forward. The harassment experienced by these former staffers is part of a clear pattern of abuse and manipulation by the Governor, and that pattern makes him unworthy of holding the highest office in New York.

A truly independent investigation into the allegations made by Ms. Bennett, Ms. Boylan, and any forthcoming survivors should take place –– but the Governor’s influence touches all entities in New York that might review his conduct. The current review, arranged by the Governor’s team and overseen by an individual who has a work history with his close associates, does not meet any standard of independence. While a truly independent investigation may uncover more evidence or instances of abuse, the existing details are sufficient for me to form my conclusion.

As a New Yorker, a legislator, Chair of the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee, and a survivor of sexual abuse, I am calling for Governor Cuomo to resign.”

Sen. Alessandra Biaggi

Assemblyman Mike Lawler is also calling for the Governor’s immediate resignation, claiming Cuomo is: “incapable of serving as Governor of New York any longer.” He goes on to accuse multiple members of the Governor’s staff of being “complicit” in Cuomo’s “targeted harassment.”

United States Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s spokeswoman issued the following statement:

“Sen. Schumer has said many times that sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated, and that any credible allegation should be thoroughly investigated.”

Allison Biasotti

US Representative Tom Reed said the Governor “must be held accountable under the law to ensure justice is served.”

“These incidents of sexual harassment and pattern of abuse are abhorrent and have absolutely no place in our society, let alone the highest rungs of government.

Such behavior is disturbing and unacceptable. Governor Cuomo must be held accountable under the law to ensure justice is served.”

Rep. Tom Reed

The New York Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, called for an independent investigation and described the continued allegations as “deeply disturbing.”

“The continued allegations are deeply disturbing and concerning. The behavior described has no place in the workplace. A truly independent investigation must begin immediately.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt called the new allegations “incredibly disturbing” before calling for a “truly independent investigation – claiming “The review suggested by someone handpicked by the Governor himself, is an outrageous, completely unacceptable idea.”

The latest allegations about Governor Cuomo’s conduct are incredibly disturbing. The review suggested by someone handpicked by the Governor himself, is an outrageous, completely unacceptable idea. We need a truly independent investigation, which is why I continue to support the calls of my colleagues for a Special Prosecutor appointed by the Attorney General.

I will be convening members of the Senate Republican Conference tomorrow morning to discuss these egregious allegations and any next steps that our conference must take.

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay has called for a “clear and decisive” response, along with a thorough, independent, investigation.

“With additional allegations against Gov. Cuomo coming to light, the response must be clear and decisive. A thorough investigation, conducted by an entity completely outside the Governor’s reach, must begin immediately.”

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay

Five state senators: Pam Helming, Daphne Jordan, Patty Richie, Sue Serino and Alexis Weik issued a joint statement. The senators added their support to calls for an independent investigation.

Tonight’s New York Times story describes behavior by Governor Cuomo that if true, is disturbing and completely unacceptable for anyone, and especially the top elected official in New York State.

His alleged predatory actions are egregious and if the account is accurate, they have crossed the line. Within a single week, two brave individuals have come forward to share their stories of working for this man.

Governor Cuomo now more than ever must be investigated. We reiterate our original request and demand Attorney General Letitia James appoint a Special Prosecutor to review all of these recent allegations.

Senators Helming, Jordan, Ritchie, Serino and Weik

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara Repeated his calls for an investigation, calling the accusations just as “disturbing and concerning” as the first.

“These new allegations of sexual harassment made against the Governor today by a 2nd former aide are just as disturbing and concerning; reinforcing my call for an immediate independent investigation.

Whether it’s a member of the legislature or the Governor’s office, as a matter of policy and moral code we have an obligation to act.

All allegations of sexual harassment including those made against the Governor, must be investigated thoroughly.”

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara

New York GOP chairman Nick Langworthy has called for Attorney General Letitia James to open an investigation into the matter:

“In 2018, Andrew Cuomo demanded then-Judge Kavanaugh submit to a lie detector test and said victims must be believed. We don’t need another one of his infamous whitewashed reports. These serious and disturbing allegations indicate a pattern of abuse that must be investigated outside of the governor’s reach. We have an independently elected AG for a reason – Attorney General Tish James needs to do her job.”

Nick Langworthy, NYGOP Chairman

Albany Mayor and Democrat Kathy Sheehan tweeted a statement in support of an investigation.

Rensselaer County Executive Dan McCoy issued a number of tweets on the subject, one of which described the Governor as a “sociopath” and accused his staff as being: “just as bad in covering for him.”

McLaughlin also called for an independent investigation and an intervention from Attorney General James.

This is a developing story and more information will be added as it becomes available.

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