Cuomo pledges ‘full and thorough’ review after shocking new sex harassment claim reported

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo holds daily briefing at State Capitol during outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Albany
A second former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo came forward publicly on Feb. 27, 2021 with claims that the governor sexually harassed her.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

After another former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo publicly accused him of sexually harassing her in a bombshell New York Times report Saturday night, the governor has agreed to allow an independent review of his actions.

The report led some state legislators to either call for the governor’s resignation, or to commit to a truly independent investigation by someone not linked to his office.

Charlotte Bennett, who previously served as an executive assistant and health policy adviser during the COVID-19 pandemic, told the Times that Cuomo had previously asked about her sex life on a number of occasions, including during a one-on-one meeting with him last June.

Bennett, a sexual assault survivor, told the Times that the questioning from Cuomo made her “uncomfortable and scared,” and she interpreted his actions as being desirous of a sexual relationship with her. The governor never touched her, she noted.

In a statement early Saturday evening, shortly after the Times story went live on its site, Cuomo denied the allegations but acknowledged Bennett’s 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,” he said in a statement. “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.

The governor also ordered “a full and thorough outside review” of the allegations made by Bennett and former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan, who earlier this week detailed her claims that the governor had sexually harassed her

Cuomo said he would direct all state employees to comply with the independent review — which, according to Special Counsel and Senior Advisor to the Governor Beth Garvey, would be led by Barbara Jones, a former federal judge.

Since the report went live Saturday night, two New York City lawmakers in the State Legislature — Bronx/Westchester state Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Manhattan Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou — took to Twitter to call for Cuomo’s immediate resignation.

Others, including Manhattan state Senator Liz Kreuger, said that the governor’s authorization of a review by his office wasn’t good enough — and that an investigation completely independent of Cuomo’s office is necessary. Kreuger pointed out that Jones is closely affiliated with Steven Cohen, former Secretary to the Governor for Cuomo.

Garvey also responded to a note in the Times report that Bennett had told Jill DesRosiers, Cuomo’s chief of staff, about the interaction soon after it happened; Bennett was later transferred to another office. She also said she gave a statement to Judith Mogul, a special counsel to the governor, about the incident, but did not insist on an investigation in order to move forward from the incident.

Ms. Bennett’s concerns were treated with sensitivity and respect and in accordance with applicable law and policy,” Garvey said in a statement Saturday night. “The matter was promptly escalated to special counsel. Ms. Bennett received the transfer she requested to a position in which she had expressed a long-standing interest, and was thoroughly debriefed on the facts which did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct. She was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled.”

Garvey said this determination was made “based on the information Ms Bennett provided was that no further action was required which was consistent with Ms. Bennett’s wishes.”

Jones, meanwhile, is currently a senior partner at the Bracewell law firm. She previously served 16 years on the federal bench within the Southern District of New York, according to her biography, and handled a “diverse range of cases, including accounting and securities fraud, antitrust, fraud and corruption involving city contracts and federal loan programs, labor racketeering and terrorism.”

Additionally, Jones chaired the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel, a panel that investigated, prosecuted and adjudicated sexual assault cases within the military. The panel also submitted a thorough report to Congress in June 2014 which included 132 policy recommendations to the Defense Department.

“There are no limits on the scope of Judge Jones’ review,’ Garvey added.

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