WSJ: Investigators Are Looking Into Cuomo Admin’s Alleged Retaliation Efforts Against His Accusers

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2020/06/24: Governor Andrew Cuomo makes an announcement and holds media briefing at 3rd Avenue office. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont joined Cuomo with announcement of  incoming travel advisory that all individuals traveling from states with significant community spread of COVID-19 quarantine for a 14-day period from the time of last contact within the identified state. This quarantine applies to any person arriving from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) a holds media briefing. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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March 19, 2021 3:25 p.m.

An investigation into sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is also looking at the role of his top aides, how the governor’s office treated complaints and whether or not the administration made attempts to intimidate Cuomo’s accusers, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. 

Some of the women accusing Cuomo of inappropriate behavior and their lawyers told WSJ that they had been interviewed in recent days by investigators from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office.

At least three former Cuomo aides — Charlotte Bennett, Lindsey Boylan and Ana Liss — who have all alleged that their former boss either sexually harassed or behaved inappropriately toward them, have said that those interviews touched not only on Cuomo’s behavior, but also have addressed how complaints were handled and about subsequent actions by senior aides in the governor’s administration that were viewed as retaliation.

WSJ had previously reported that some of Cuomo’s top aides had made calls to former staffers, in what some of the recipients of those calls perceived as an intimidation attempt to glean information about allegations made by former colleagues against the governor. A senior adviser to the governor, Rich Azzopardi, has denied those assertions.

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Bennett’s legal team has also alleged that officials in the governor’s Executive Chamber failed to follow procedures under state law for sexual harassment complaints.

Bennett has said she complained to Cuomo’s chief of staff that the governor had asked questions about her sex life during a June 5 meeting in his office last year, but her lawyers told WSJ that Bennett had not been contacted by the Governor’s Office for Employee Relations about the incident.

According to WSJ, Jessica Westerman, one of Bennett’s lawyers, said that investigators asked her client if Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, had discussed filing a formal complaint after Bennett first reported the allegations on June 10. 

Bennett has previously suggested that the governor’s special counsel Judith Mogul brushed off her claims, saying the office didn’t need to investigate her complaint because the governor was simply mentoring her.

In a statement Friday to WSJ, Mogul denied Bennett’s account of their conversations as “not true.” 

“As I have previously stated the documents will reflect that I acted consistently with the information provided at the time, the requirements of the law, and Charlotte’s wishes,” she said.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has repeatedly insisted that he “never touched anyone inappropriately,” while apologizing for workplace behavior that he said during a press conference earlier this month he now realizes had made some of his staffers uncomfortable. Cuomo has also resisted calls to resign. 

The release of accusers’ personnel records has also come up amid the attorney general’s investigation of potential behind-the-scenes efforts by Cuomo’s administration to undermine or intimidate the former aides.

Boylan had previously criticized the release of personnel complaints filed against her in a letter circulated by people close to the governor. Westerman said that queries about the personnel records of Bennett, and whether her client was aware if her file had been circulated, had also been the subject of her client’s conversations with investigators.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a Cuomo official has been accused of wrongdoing. In 2018, one of the governor’s former closest aides and friends, Joseph Percoco, was sentenced to federal corruption charges for accepting bribes.

In a parallel investigation into reports that the administration altered data on COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents, investigators are also looking into health care groups and lobbyists linked to nursing homes that made donations to the three-term governor’s campaign as the state shielded hospitals and long-term care facilities from the threat of lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic.

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