Attorney General and Governor’s Office clash over harassment review

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NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 11: New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a press conference, June 11, 2019 in New York City. James announced that New York, California, and seven other states have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. James said that the merger would deprive customers of the benefits of competition and potentially drive up prices for cellphone service. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Attorney General Letitia James’ office has spent Sunday engaged in a war of words with the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The disagreement is centered around who should lead a review of the recent sexual harassment allegations made against the Governor.

New York Attorney General Letitia James today released the following statement in response to Governor Andrew Cuomo announcing he would grant her request for a referral to investigate allegations of sexual harassment:

“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


The Governor’s office had 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.

Attorney General James then 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

A number of politicians backed the Attorney General’s request for a referral, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

“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 issued yet another statement, saying her office expects to receive a referral with subpoena power to investigate the allegations. She claims the demands are in line with state law and a law firm will be hired and deputized.

“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

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.”

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.”

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

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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