An attorney for Charlotte Bennett on Friday accused the Democratic Speaker of the New York State Assembly of covering up for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and expressing a willingness to “obstruct efforts” to hold the governor accountable as the investigation of numerous sexual harassment claims marches on.
“I believe that [the AG’s report] should be part of the Assembly’s review, but I don’t know if the report itself, alone, without the conclusion of the judiciary committee’s work should rise to an action,” Assembly Speaker Rep. Carl Heastie, who represents part of The Bronx, told reporters in Schenectady during a mid-morning presser.
Bennett’s attorney Debra Katz—who famously served as lead attorney for Brett Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford during his contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2018–responded to Heastie’s remarks on social media and in a statement.
In that statement, Katz accused Heastie of a “betrayal.”
“The Assembly Speaker’s comments today are alarming and outrageous,” Katz said. “Speaker Heastie has made clear that he will actively obstruct efforts to hold Governor Cuomo responsible even if, as we expect will be the case, the Attorney General’s investigators substantiate the multiple allegations of sexual harassment levied against the Governor by Ms. Bennett and the other complainants. Speaker Heastie’s statement is a betrayal of the duties of his office and demonstrates that his loyalty is to Governor Cuomo, and not to either the rule of law or to the women who have been victimized by the Governor in clear violation of the law.”
On Twitter, Katz was a bit more blunt and to the point.
“Cover up in progress,” she tweeted. “What an outrage.”
Cover up in progress. What an outrage. https://t.co/2XnLK2Qexg
— Debra Katz (@DebraKatzKMB) July 23, 2021
“We call on Speaker Heastie to retract this statement at once and to assure New Yorkers that the many millions of dollars being spent by the Attorney General’s office in conducting a robust and fair investigation will not be for naught,” Katz’s statement continued.
At least 10 women have accused the three-term incumbent of sexual misconduct ranging from crude and humiliating remarks about their appearance to unwanted advances, abusing his power and status to extract sex, and retaliation as well as instances of non-consensual kissing, groping and fondling–some of which would qualify as low-level sexual assaults under Empire State law.
The governor has not denied that he made women uncomfortable with his behavior in the workplace. Instead, he apologized for what he said was a misunderstanding of his intent and apologized if he had caused anyone pain. He denied the allegation that he groped a woman in the governor’s mansion.
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) has been investigating the claims since March of this year–originally premised on accusations by former Cuomo aides Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett.
The inquiry has since been expanded to account for at least some of the eight additional and publicly-known accusers.
James, who has hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation, plans to release her office’s findings in a public report.
Notably, James’s efforts to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations against Cuomo only came after several bitter days of back-and-forth between the AG’s and the governor’s office about the form and contours of the investigation. Cuomo wanted the inquiry to be much more informal and stacked with loyalists but James pushed back. Eventually, Cuomo gave in and the AG got what she wanted.
The New York State Assembly is currently conducting its own parallel investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations as part of a broader impeachment probe that includes the Cuomo administration’s documented and admitted withholding of nursing home death data during the COVID-19 pandemic and the improper use of government funds to promote the governor’s book about his leadership during the first few months of the crisis.
The Assembly’s wide-berthed investigation has previously been criticized for lacking focus and for being run by attorneys close to Cuomo ally and New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.
DiFiore owes her current position to the governor. She recently came under fire after it was discovered Cuomo pulled strings to ensure DiFiore’s daughter obtained a seat on the state Supreme Court in the Ninth Judicial District. That move drew criticism from several Democratic Party leaders throughout New York, but the story faded as the nursing home deaths data scandal and sexual harassment allegations took up most of the oxygen.
After several months and several million dollars of public money spent on the effort, James now faces the prospect that her office’s work–which is being overseen by former acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne L. Clark–might be ignored by state lawmakers.
“We have no comment,” a spokesperson for James’s office told Law&Crime when asked about Heastie’s and Katz’s Friday comments.
In later remarks to the Wall Street Journal‘s Jimmy Vielkind, Heastie said he trusted the attorney general while cautioning her eventual report would be only one piece of the puzzle.
Just spoke again with Heastie. He repeated that he has full faith in Tish James’s investigation, it’s just difficult to say how it will impact the Assembly’s course without knowing what James’ conclusions will be.
(He does not know what the report will say. I don’t either.) https://t.co/eB9eHu9XLo
— Jimmy Vielkind (@JimmyVielkind) July 23, 2021
The quick cleanup of his firestorm-provoking comments was more or less in line with Heastie’s original stance that the State Assembly’s own report would be determinative in the impeachment question.
“I think it should be included,” Heastie continued in additional comments reported by the New York Post. “I think the committee should look at it and review it, but like I said, I have not spoken [about the AG’s report] and that will be determined by Chuck Lavine, but in my opinion, I think it should be part of the overall review.”
Law&Crime reached out to Heastie’s office for comment on the allegations made by Katz and for clarification of his own position but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
[image via Richard Drew-Pool/Getty Images]
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