Early in the evening on Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took the odd step of issuing a second written public statement in response to a story that first broke in the online version of the New York Times on Saturday night.
I covered the story from Saturday with this piece which received a lot of favorable notice for the nature of the headline I gave to it — “The NYT Takes Andrew Cuomo Out On Lake Tahoe For Some Fishing.”
In that Saturday night story, which ran on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Times, the author quotes directly from a statement given by Cuomo to the Times in response to the new allegations of sexual harassment and bullying made by former Cuomo Administration staffer Charlotte Bennett:
Mr. Cuomo said in a statement to The Times on Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” He said he had requested an independent review of the matter and asked that New Yorkers await the findings “before making any judgments.”
The Times story went on to quote from his Saturday statement more fully in the body of the 2500 word story.
This raises a question with regard to the new statement issued on Sunday night.
“Questions have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office.“I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm. I spend most of my life at work and colleagues are often also personal friends.
“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.
“To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.
“That’s why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations.
“Separately, my office has heard anecdotally that some people have reached out to Ms. Bennett to express displeasure about her coming forward. My message to anyone doing that is you have misjudged what matters to me and my administration and you should stop now – period.”
The Times is also reporting late on Sunday night that an investigation will be conducted by a law firm appointed by the New York Attorney General without input from the Governor’s Office on who will conduct such an investigation.
But back to the earlier question — why a second statement?
Could it be this?
I have something to say today. pic.twitter.com/qz0EkC5cD5
— Lindsay Nielsen (@Lindsayon10) February 28, 2021
Lindsay Nielsen was a reporter working in Albany and Buffalo for ABC News10 in Buffalo. Her Twitter page has no Tweets from her after November 21, 2019 — until 12:26 pm today.
Nothing further has been reported about her during the remainder of Sunday up to the point of publication of this piece. There is no suggestion at this point that she was targeted for unwanted “attention” from Gov. Cuomo based on her looks. From her statement, it might be that she is simply lending her voice in support of Ms. Bennett who has said she is being attacked by members of the Cuomo Administration for speaking out about her own experiences.
At the very least, the inference from Nielsen’s tweet seems to be that Cuomo and his staff took extreme measures to prevent embarrassing stories about him from making it into the news. If there is another story in the works with Nielsen as the source, that could land at any time. It would explain why Cuomo felt the need to issue another statement on Sunday night.
As I noted above, an “agreement” was reached late on Sunday between Cuomo and the New York Attorney General, but not before a war of words between them and some fireworks.
The New York Attorney General, Letitia James, relied on the express provisions of New York law governing allegations of sexual harassment in state or local government, providing that there must be a “referral” of the matter from the Governor’s Office to the Attorney General. Based on such a referral — which is itself required by law under the circumstances — the Attorney General shall then hire an outside law firm, deputize them as members of the Attorney General’s Office imbued with subpoena power, and the Attorney General’s Office shall oversee the investigation as conducted by the outside attorneys.
Cuomo had proposed on Saturday that an “independent” investigator be named — suggesting former federal judge Barbara Jones to head a review into the allegations made by Bennett. The suggestion of Jones was quickly rejected by other officials on the basis that Jones has close links with Steve Cohen who was once Cuomo’s most senior advisor, and their presence in the same law firm posed a substantial conflict of interest.
On Sunday Attorney General James rejected altogether any involvement by the Governor’s Office in the selection of the investigator, deeming it as a usurpation of her lawful authority to select the persons who will conduct the investigation required by law.
All in all, a very bad 24 hours for the Governor of New York, who is now just marking time before it becomes a fait accompli that he has no choice other than to resign or face impeachment.