An attorney for one of the women accusing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment is claiming that the governor is interfering with a state attorney general investigation.
Debra Katz, who represents Cuomo accuser Charlotte Bennett, complained in a letter to New York Attorney General Letitia James. It follows an Albany Times Union report that the administration was offering attorneys to meet with staffers before James’ office interviewed them, and even to accompany them to the interviews. Katz said she understood that the attorneys were also “debriefing” employees after the interviews.
“This is highly improper and we object in the strongest possible terms to this obvious interference with what you have stated would be a ‘thorough and independent’ investigation,” Katz wrote.
The administration attorneys’ reported involvement is part of a “parallel investigation” Cuomo’s office is conducting, accoring to the Times Union. A source with the New York Attorney General’s Office told the newspaper their office did not direct Cuomo’s office to conduct their own probe.
Katz argued that having attorneys from Cuomo’s office speak with employees could have a “chilling effect on potential witnesses or other accusers who wish to come forward but fear job-related retaliation” if they speak out. She claimed that she has already spoken to witnesses who told her that they were afraid of facing retaliation “if they refuse to cooperate with the Executive Chamber’s lawyers” and felt “constrained” from speaking about Cuomo’s conduct and their work environment in front of administration attorneys.
“We believe that this offer of counsel constitutes a deliberate attempt by the governor to interfere with your office’s investigation,” Katz said.
Katz called on James “to issue a directive to the governor to cease this highly improper practice,” claiming that such a directive was “necessary to restore credibility to this investigation” and to send a message that the probe will remain “fair and untainted.”
Cuomo’s office told the Times Union that they have made clear to employees that they are welcome to hire their own attorneys instead of using the ones being offered.
Neither James’ office nor Cuomo’s immediately responded to Fox News’ request for comment on Katz’s letter.
Bennett has accused Cuomo of asking her about her sex life and giving her the impression that he wanted to sleep with her. Cuomo apologized, claiming he never meant to say anything offensive and “never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable.”
In an interview with CBS News, Bennett rejected Cuomo’s apology.
“It’s not an issue of my feelings … It’s an issue of his actions,” Bennett said.
“The fact is that he was sexually harassing me and he has not apologized for sexually harassing me,” she added.