New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has a parallel investigation into his own alleged sexual misconduct—and is attempting to send his own lawyers along with executive chamber staff who are questioned by New York Attorney General Letitia James‘s (D) office.
Critics across the Empire State say the move is an unethical effort to interfere with the attorney general’s inquiry into allegations made by eight women who have accused Cuomo of various forms of sexual harassment, sexism, inappropriate touching and—in an instance of alleged under the blouse groping—sexual assault.
The separate investigation by the governor’s office into the woman’s groping allegations is unfolding as other staffers were recently informed that an attorney could be made available to accompany them if they are interviewed by the attorney general’s investigators. The Executive Chamber staffers also were instructed that an attorney would be available to meet with them ahead of those interviews, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
That has unsettled some staff members, according to the person, because they are concerned about the implications of relying on an attorney provided by the Executive Chamber to potentially sit in on their interviews with the attorney general’s investigators.
“It’s absurd,” the attorney representing the alleged groping victim—who is still employed by the governor’s office—told the newspaper on condition of anonymity. “Why would you be doing that? It’s not appropriate, and obviously we’re concerned with the ramifications and the effect on witnesses and the quest for the truth.”
Lindsey Boylan, a former aide to the governor who was the first woman to come forward with sexual harassment allegations against the three-term Democrat, said the news was evidence of Cuomo’s continued “abuse and intimidation.”
Members of the New York State legislature also panned the governor’s inquiry and the news that the executive chamber was pushing its own lawyers on would-be witnesses.
“To be clear: The Governor is trying to obstruct the Attorney General’s investigation by sending lawyers, paid by his office, to accompany his staff if they are questioned about the allegations against the Governor,” New York State Sen. Julia Salazar (D) said via Twitter. “This really sounds like intimidating potential witnesses.”
“Imagine if you did witness your boss doing something unethical,” Salazar, a longtime Cuomo critic continued. “Then your boss is investigated, while you still work for him. Then your boss offers to have an attorney go with you when you, the witness, are questioned about what your boss did. This is outrageous.”
New York State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D), the first member of the legislature to call for Cuomo’s resignation and impeaachment, also addressed the controversy:
1. Investigating yourself is not an investigation.
2. Executive Branch employees: the attorney provided for you is in the interest of the Executive Branch & anything you say to the attorneys will be used to protect the Executive and not you. https://t.co/FTARq5kK4c
— Alessandra Biaggi (@Biaggi4NY) March 18, 2021
“It’s not investigation, it’s interference,” Assembly member Joe Angelino (R) tweeted. “When witnesses need attorneys, that’s a problem.”
But it wasn’t just the governor’s persistent and partisan critics who were troubled by the news.
“This is attempt to interfere w/ the AG’s existing investigation,” New York State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D), a former ally of the governor’s who owes his political career to Cuomo’s endorsement in a tight 2018 primary, said via Twitter. “It’s unethical for subject of investigation to offer legal counsel to 3rd parties for their testimony. An investigation into yourself is not real.”
Others pointed out similarities between Cuomo and former Michigan governor Rick Snyder (R), who oversaw the Flint Water Crisis and now faces two criminal charges over his handling of that issue (a judge just denied a motion to dismiss those charges).
Lots of similarities btwn Cuomo & Michigan Governor Snyder. During the Flint water crisis, Snyder had the State Police quietly investigate w/o alerting the AG, which was conducting its own investigation. His office also later provided outside attnys for anyone the AG questioned https://t.co/qiS1pzbnUY
— Kayla Ruble (@RubleKB) March 18, 2021
After the Times Union published their story, the governor’s office reached out and an anonymous official made an effort to clarify that the effort to send their own attorneys along with would-be witnesses was technically only an offer.
“It was also explicitly said that you can hire your own attorney if you don’t want to use (the attorneys retained by the governor’s office),” an anonymous spokesperson told the outlet.
Critics panned that explanation as well:
— danielle tcholakian (@danielleiat) March 17, 2021
[image via David Dee Delgado/Getty Images]
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