A former Acting U.S. Attorney in Manhattan who handled several high-profile public-corruption cases and a lawyer who specializes in sex-harassment and other employment-discrimination cases were chosen March 8 by State Attorney General Letitia James to investigate charges that Governor Cuomo harassed as many as five past and present female staffers.
The fifth of those women, who said she was summoned to the Governor's Executive Mansion in Albany late last year on a pretext and accused Mr. Cuomo of then sticking his hand underneath her blouse and fondling her, was revealed by the Albany Times Union the day after Ms. James named ex-U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim and Anne L. Clark to lead the independent investigation into the allegations against Mr. Cuomo.
Sticking to His Story
The unidentified woman initially did not provide any specifics about the alleged touching, but the Governor's Counsel, Beth Garvey, said her accusation was forwarded to Ms. James's office. Mr. Cuomo, during a March 9 conference call with reporters after the Times Union posted its story, repeated his claim that he "never touched anyone inappropriately."
But after The Times Union the following day detailed the alleged fondling, outrage against the Governor grew. On March 11, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced that after a meeting with his Democratic conference, he had authorized the Assembly Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation, led by its Chairman, Charles D. Lavine.
Just four days earlier, Mr. Heastie had stopped short of calling for Mr. Cuomo's resignation—as his Senate counterpart, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, had just done—but he said the Governor might want to consider it. By the time the Assembly Speaker announced the impeachment probe, the number of legislators who had signed a letter demanding that Mr. Cuomo resign had grown to 59—40 Assembly Members and 19 State Senators.
Mr. Heastie insisted the Assembly probe would not interfere with the one commissioned by the Attorney General, whose choices to head it had been expected to reassure the public that it would be conducted free of political considerations.
Mr. Kim served as Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District from March 2017 to January 2018. During that period, he oversaw the preparation for three trials involving prominent state officials who were convicted of bribe-receiving charges later in 2018: former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Joseph Percoco, who served Mr. Cuomo as both his top aide and his campaign manager.
He also, shortly after stepping into the job when President Donald Trump fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for unspecified reasons, issued an unusual letter stating that Mayor de Blasio would not be prosecuted on charges connected to campaign contributions but accusing him of violating the spirit, if not the letter, of campaign-finance laws.
Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's Office, he has been a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton LLP, dealing with internal investigations, regulatory enforcement and litigation, according to a release from the Attorney General.
Ms. Clark is a partner at Vladeck, Raskin & Clark, P.C. who has successfully represented plaintiffs in numerous sex-harassment and other employment-discrimination cases in both the public and private sectors.
Prior to joining the firm in the early 1990s, as a staff attorney at the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund she worked on the successful appeal in the sexual-harassment case Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc. That case was brought by a female welder who charged her employer created and encouraged a sexually hostile work environment that featured pictures of naked women striking sexually suggestive poses and employees and supervisors who made demeaning remarks about women.
"There is no question," Ms. James said in a statement, "that they both have the knowledge and background necessary to lead this investigation and provide New Yorkers with the answers they deserve."
Mr. Kim and Ms. Clark will have the power to subpoena documents and records, as well as witnesses, including the Governor, to give testimony. They will report weekly to the AG's office on the progress of the investigation, which could last for months, and will produce a written report once done that will be released to the public, Ms. James noted.
Their appointments came the day after Ms. Stewart-Cousins called for Mr. Cuomo's resignation, saying the allegations against him were serious enough that they could distract him from performing his duties, with Mr. Heastie at that point saying the time had come for the Governor to consider stepping down.
The Governor has remained defiant, however, even after his office referred the accusation about fondling to the State Police for a possible criminal probe. He has contended that some remarks which female staffers took to be harassing in nature were meant as office banter, saying with some emotion that he was sorry if his intentions were misinterpreted. He has denied touching any of the staffers inappropriately, although one former aide, Lindsey Boylan, alleged that after a one-on-one meeting in his office three years ago, he tried to block her from exiting and then kissed her without her consent before allowing her to leave.
Wants Voters to Decide
After Ms. Stewart-Cousins in a private phone call failed to persuade him to quit, he held a conference call March 7 before she could go public with that demand and claimed that since he had been elected by the voters, it would be "anti-democratic" for legislators to force him out.
Complicating matters for both Ms. Stewart-Cousins and Mr. Heastie is that they are supposed to reach agreement with Mr. Cuomo on a budget by the end of this month. State Sen. Diane Savino, whose district includes a chunk of Staten Island and a slice of Western Brooklyn, noted in a March 8 interview that the Governor has leverage in the budget negotiations because if no deal were reached with the legislative leaders, he could use a series of "extenders" to continue spending as laid out in the budget scheduled to expire April 1. Then-Gov. David Paterson used that tactic during budget disagreements a bit more than a decade ago.
Mr. Cuomo has argued that no action should be taken against him until the investigation ordered by Ms. James is completed and its findings and recommendations have been released.
During the March 9 conference call with reporters, the Governor was asked about his insistence on due process in his case, in contrast with his call in May 2018 for then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to resign just hours after The New Yorker posted an article accusing him of being physically abusive to four women with whom he had been involved in relationships.
Degrees Make Difference?
Mr. Cuomo, alluding to the fact that the allegations of physical impropriety against him had to that point been limited to his delivering two unwanted kisses, placing his hand on the lower backs of two women without their consent, and a too-lengthy embrace of a former aide two decades ago when he was U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said he had not been accused of the same sort of force as Mr. Schneiderman, with whom he had feuded for years prior to his resignation.
"There is a spectrum of allegations," the Governor said. "There's capital crimes, there's physical violence, right? Down to more-minor allegations."
He did not mention, however, the claim by one accuser, Charlotte Bennett, that his remarks to her during a private meeting in his office were predatory in nature. Besides allegedly saying that he was willing to have a relationship with a woman who was up to 40 years younger than him, the 63-year-old Governor asked the 25-year-old aide whether she had previously had relationships with older men. She also told CBS Evening News anchor Norah O'Donnell that he mentioned her being a survivor of a sexual assault, then asked whether that assault had made it difficult for her to experience intimacy.
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