Tuesday, 27 Jul 2021

Cuomo to Be Questioned in Sexual Harassment Inquiry

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to be questioned on Saturday by investigators from the New York State attorney general’s office, signaling that a four-month-long inquiry into several sexual harassment accusations may be entering its final stages.

Joon H. Kim and Anne L. Clark, the two outside lawyers hired to lead the investigation that is being overseen by Letitia James, the state attorney general, are expected to interview the governor in Albany, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The lawyers have spent months gathering hours of testimony from several women who have accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual misconduct or harassment. The lawyers have also in recent weeks interviewed senior administration officials in preparation for questioning the governor.

They have subpoenaed and collected troves of records, including state documents, emails and text messages, as they scrutinize the women’s accounts and examine whether Mr. Cuomo and his staff broke any laws in dealing with sexual harassment complaints. The governor, a Democrat, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Once their investigation is complete, Mr. Kim, a former senior federal prosecutor, and Ms. Clark, a prominent employment lawyer, are expected to issue their findings in a public report. Its contents could be politically devastating for Mr. Cuomo, who is navigating one of the most turbulent points of his decade-long tenure.

While many of the state’s top Democrats called on Mr. Cuomo to resign earlier this year, many others said they would wait for the outcome of the investigation before weighing in his fate. The findings could inform a separate, broader impeachment investigation being conducted in the State Assembly, which is also looking at the governor’s handling of nursing home deaths during the pandemic, among other controversies.

It remains unclear exactly when the investigation will end, and there is no deadline for a report to be issued; Ms. James said last month that the inquiry “will conclude when it concludes.”

While Mr. Cuomo’s deposition suggests the investigation is in its later stages, it does not necessarily guarantee the inquiry is closing: Investigators could still call him, and other witnesses, for follow-up interviews based on his testimony and other evidence. But a person familiar with the investigation has said a report is on track to be released before summer’s end.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office declined to comment on Thursday.

Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said in a statement, “We have said repeatedly that the governor doesn’t want to comment on this review until he has cooperated.” Mr. Azzopardi added that “the continued leaks are more evidence of the transparent political motivation of the attorney general’s review.” He provided no evidence that the attorney general was leaking information.

The Cuomo administration has also come under fire for administering coronavirus tests to the governor’s younger brother, the CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, and other family members on a priority basis at the beginning of the pandemic when tests were scarce — an issue that federal prosecutors are examining as part of a separate investigation.

The attorney general is also looking at Mr. Cuomo’s use of state resources as he wrote and promoted his recent pandemic memoir, a book deal from which the governor is expected to receive $5.1 million.

The governor’s upcoming deposition comes about two months after investigators subpoenaed at least four of his accusers to testify under oath and a few weeks after several of his top aides were also interviewed.

In at least some of the interviews, the questioning mostly focused on the sexual harassment allegations that have surfaced in published reports, according to one person with knowledge of Mr. Kim’s inquiry. The questions also touched on whether there was an abusive workplace culture in Mr. Cuomo’s office.

Ms. James, a Democrat, launched her investigation in March after a number of former and current female aides accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual impropriety, ranging from unwanted hugs and comments that made them feel uncomfortable to sexual advances and inappropriate touching.

Lindsey Boylan, a former official at the state’s economic development agency, was the first women to accuse the governor, saying he had given her an unsolicited kiss on the lips after a meeting. Another female staffer, who has remained unnamed, has accused Mr. Cuomo of groping her in the Executive Mansion in Albany.

Lawyers for both women said in May that they had been subpoenaed to testify under oath and would cooperate fully with the attorney general’s investigation.

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Mr. Cuomo, told The Times in February that the governor, who is almost 40 years her senior, made sexual overtures while they were alone in his State Capitol office, at one point asking her whether she had slept with older men before.

Investigators interviewed Ms. Bennett for eight hours under oath in May, a deposition that her lawyer, Debra Katz, described as “incredibly thorough and comprehensive.” Ms. Bennett also provided investigators with more than “120 pages of contemporaneous records” intended to back up her claims, Ms. Katz said.

Mr. Cuomo, who initially apologized for making “people feel uncomfortable,” has more recently forcefully denied any wrongdoing, saying that he is eager to tell his side of the story. His aides have appeared to discredit the investigation, suggesting that it was being driven by Ms. James’s political motivations: Some of her political allies have publicly encouraged her to run for governor.

The investigation is being conducted by outside lawyers to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. One of the lawyers has a history with Mr. Cuomo: Mr. Kim was chief counsel to Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, when the office was investigating Mr. Cuomo’s decision in 2014 to disband the Moreland Commission, an anticorruption panel.

In 2017, Mr. Kim became acting U.S. attorney for 10 months when President Donald J. Trump forced Mr. Bharara out of office. During that time, Mr. Kim was involved in the pretrial preparation in the prosecution of Joseph Percoco, a former close aide of the governor who was convicted of federal corruption charges in 2018.

The accusations against Mr. Cuomo, as well as the outcomes of the resulting investigations, could affect his chances of winning a fourth term, as opponents — both Democratic and Republican — consider running against him.

But Mr. Cuomo has continued to attract donors: On Thursday, ahead of a filing deadline, his campaign disclosed it had more than $18 million on hand, after raising $2.5 million over the past six months.

The monthslong wait for the attorney general’s report has left the State Capitol in suspense, but it has also given Mr. Cuomo time to mount an effort to rehabilitate his image, stabilize his poll numbers and shore up support among elected officials and key constituencies, especially Black voters. He has sought to present a semblance of normalcy by holding news conferences and ribbon-cutting events to celebrate New York’s economic reopening, at times standing next to politicians who had previously called on him to resign.

Recently, he has focused his messaging on gun violence and public safety, a pressing issue for voters amid a spike in shootings in many of the state’s major cities. On Wednesday, he held a joint news conference on the topic with Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City.

J. David Goodman contributed reporting.

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