ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Attorney General Letitia James said Friday that an ongoing investigation surrounding Gov. Andrew Cuomo will “conclude when it concludes,” and said she has ignored criticism from his top aide that the probe is politically motivated.
James told reporters the ongoing investigation into whether the governor sexually harassed women, including female employees, is “very thorough and comprehensive.” Her office is also probing whether Cuomo illegally used state resources to write and promote his COVID-19 leadership book, for which the Democrat is set to earn over $5 million.
“I’m not going to respond to any personal attacks on me and/or my office," James said at her New York City office Friday. “I deal with over 1,800 employees who are professional. We come to work each and every day focusing on the law and the facts, and politics stops at the door. “Anything other than that, obviously I ignore.”
Cuomo is facing allegations that he abused his power by inappropriately touching and sexually harassing women who worked with him or met him elsewhere. Accusations range from groping under a woman’s shirt and planting unwanted kisses, to asking unwelcome personal questions about sex and dating — including whether an employee would have sex with an older man.
James launched the sexual harassment probe in early March, after Cuomo initially tried to choose who would lead the investigation into the allegations. Cuomo then allowed James to choose two independent attorneys to lead it instead.
For weeks, Cuomo and his supporters in the state Legislature have called for the public to await the results of James' investigation before judging the governor.
By mid-April, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli issued a letter authorizing James to open a criminal inquiry into Cuomo's book deal as media outlets reported on aides who helped edit drafts and print manuscripts. Her office later acknowledged an “ongoing investigation.”
Cuomo's spokesperson and senior adviser Rich Azzopardi blasted DiNapoli's letter and claimed James and DiNapoli, both Democrats, have expressed interest in unseating Cuomo.
“This is Albany politics at its worst -- both the Comptroller and the Attorney General have spoken to people about running for governor and it is unethical to wield criminal referral authority to further political self-interest,” said Azzopardi.
He said state aides who worked on the project were volunteering on their own time and without the use of state resources.
Cuomo has increasingly argued that politics is the main driver of criticism against him, and has questioned the motives of accusers.
It's a contrast to Cuomo's initial approach in late February, when he apologized for “interactions” that made anyone feel uncomfortable, and said he didn’t intend to offend anyone with “jokes” or comments.
“I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation," he said, later adding: “I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm."
Cuomo has maintained he never touched anyone inappropriately or sexually harassed anyone, and that no one told him if they felt uncomfortable. He's said he was an old-school, Italian-American politician with a habit of greeting people with hugs and kisses, while acknowledging “sensitivities” have changed.
By mid-March, a majority of state Democratic lawmakers called on Cuomo to resign.
Federal prosecutors are also investigating the governor, in part over his administration’s months-long decision to keep nursing home COVID-19 data secret.
And the state Assembly's judiciary committee has started its own wide-ranging probe into whether there are grounds to impeach Cuomo over allegations ranging from sexual harassment, to the book deal, to nursing home COVID-19 data, to whether the governor's family received improper access to COVID-19 testing last spring when testing was scarce.
Still, in recent weeks, calls for Cuomo to resign have simmered.
And some Democratic lawmakers who called on him to step down have appeared alongside Cuomo praising his leadership at recent media appearances.
It's unclear when the investigations will wrap up. James' office is expected to release a final report to the public with its findings.
The governor has said he didn't do anything wrong and that he expects the report will prove it.
Cuomo championed a landmark 2019 state law that made it easier for sexual harassment victims to prove their case in court. Alleged victims no longer have to meet the high bar of proving sexual harassment is “severe and pervasive.”
Meanwhile, New York state regulations say sexual harassment includes unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature — from unwanted flirtation to sexual jokes — that creates an offensive work environment, regardless of a perpetrator's intent.
Marina Villeneuve, The Associated Press