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Cuomo BACKS DOWN and says he'll ask NY's attorney general and chief judge to appoint special counsel

Governor Andrew Cuomo has bowed to pressure from Republicans and Democrats who have demanded that an independent investigator look into sexual harassment allegations against him brought by two former female staffers.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Chief Judge of New York’s Court of Appeals Janet DiFiore will ‘jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report,’ according to a statement from Beth Garvey, Cuomo’s senior adviser. 

Cuomo’s office released a statement to DailyMail.com on Sunday walking back the governor’s decision to have Barbara Jones, a former federal judge with ties to a senior adviser, lead the probe.

Jones, a former US District Court judge, once worked as partners at a law firm with Steve Cohen, a former federal prosecutor and one of Cuomo's confidantes.

The decision to have Jones lead the investigation was slammed as insufficient by top Democrats including House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, House Rep. Jerry Nadler, and other state and national leaders. 

President Joe Biden's chief spokesperson on Sunday came out in support of an independent investigation. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office announced on Sunday that the New York State Attorney General and the chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals will jointly select an independent investigator to look into sexual harassment claims made by two former Cuomo staffers. Cuomo is seen above at a vaccination site in Brooklyn on Monday

New York State Attorney General Letitia James (left) and Chief Judge of New York’s Court of Appeals Janet DiFiore (right) will ‘jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report,’ according to a statement from Beth Garvey, Cuomo’s senior adviser

Cuomo bowed to pressure from Republicans and Democrats who slammed his decision to ask Barbara Jones, a former federal judge, to lead the investigation. Jones (seen above in September 2019) was partners at a law firm alongside a senior adviser to Cuomo

James, the attorney general, is a Democrat who won office in an election. DiFiore was appointed by Cuomo. 

‘The Governor's Office wants a review of the sexual harassment claims made against the Governor to be done in a manner beyond reproach,’ Garvey said in her statement.

‘We had selected former Federal Judge Barbara Jones, with a stellar record for qualifications and integrity, but we want to avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics.

‘Accordingly we have asked the Attorney General of New York State and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals to jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report.

Charlotte Bennett, 25, who served in a number of roles for Cuomo - including executive assistant and health policy advisor - said the governor made a number of concerning comments to her last spring during the height of the pandemic in the state. She is the second former aide to accuse the governor of sexual harassment

Boylan had already alleged in tweets in December last year that Cuomo 'abused his power' and sexually harassed her for years

Who is former federal judge Barbara Jones? The woman asked by Cuomo to lead the independent review into his sexual harassment allegations 

Both the governor and his special counsel, Beth Garvey, released statements Saturday evening calling for the review from Barbara Jones and for all staff to fully comply after former aide, Charlotte Bennett, accused Cuomo of harassment while working with him during the pandemic. 

According to her website, Jones was the former judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. 

She was appointed by former President Bill Clinton in 1995, working on cases that included accounting and securities fraud, antitrust, fraud and corruption involving city contracts and federal loan programs, labor racketeering and terrorism. 

According to her website, Jones was the former judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

In May 2010, she was appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts to serve on the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. Jones served until October 2012. 

In 2018, Jones was notably appointed as a Special Master by SDNY Judge Kimba Wood to manage the review of documents that had been seized from Michael Cohen, lawyer for former President Donald Trump.

The appointment to judge came at the recommendation of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), CNBC reported in 2018. 

Prior to being a judge, Jones worked under Rudy Giuliani when he was the U.S. attorney in Manhattan in the 1980s. 

Jones was instrumental in the conviction of Autumn Jackson in 1997 after they attempted to extort $1million from Bill Cosby. 

After stepping down as judge in early 2013, Jones acted as an arbitrator and overturned National Football League running back Rack Rice's indefinite suspension after he physically assaulted his fiancee in an elevator. 

'She is incredibly efficient,' Glen Kopp, a partner at Mayer Brown and a former colleague of Jones' at Bracewell, where the former judge is a private partner. 'She can consume, absorb and make sense of a lot of information very quickly.'  

‘The work product will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge.

‘All members of the Governor's office will cooperate fully. We will have no further comment until the report is issued.’

On Sunday, James' office released a statement saying that she was ready to accept the task of appointing an independent investigator.

'Allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” James said. 

'There must be a truly independent investigation to thoroughly review these troubling allegations against the governor, and I stand ready to oversee that investigation and make any appointments necessary. 

'Given state law, this can only be accomplished through an official referral from the governor’s office based on State Law (§ 63-8) and must include subpoena power. 

'I urge the governor to make this referral immediately.' 

A second former aide came forward on Friday and said she was sexually harassed by Cuomo, who responded with a statement Saturday saying he never made advances toward her and never intended to be inappropriate.

Charlotte Bennett, a health policy adviser in the Democratic governor's administration until November, told The New York Times Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she ever had sex with older men.

Another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, recently accused Cuomo of subjecting her to an unwanted kiss and inappropriate comments. Cuomo denied the allegations.

Cuomo said in a statement Saturday that Bennett was a 'hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID' and that 'she has every right to speak out.'

He said he had intended to be a mentor for Bennett, who is 25.

'I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate,' Cuomo's statement said. 

'The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.'

Cuomo, however, said he had authorized an outside review of Bennett's allegations.

The governor's special counsel, Beth Garvey, said that review would be conducted by Jones.

'I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgements,' Cuomo said. 

'I will have no further comment until the review has concluded.'

Biden wants an investigation into sexual assault and harassment allegations levied against Cuomo, the president's spokesperson revealed Sunday.

'There should be an independent review looking into these allegations,' White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told CNN's 'State of the Union' on Sunday.

'And that's certainly something the president supports.'

Psaki said the allegations 'are serious.'

'It was hard to read that story as a woman,' Psaki said of the New York Times piece revealing the new allegations against Cuomo.

'That process should move forward as quickly as possible,' she said of a probe into the governor's conduct toward female aides.

Other top New York Democrats said any investigation should be placed out of the control of the governor´s office, including the selection of the investigator.

'Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett’s detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read,' Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Sunday. 

'Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett’s detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read,' House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Sunday

Cynthia Nixon, the former Sex and the City actress who ran against Cuomo for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial nomination in 2018, tweeted: 'Who asked the judge to review the new allegations? If the answer is the Cuomo administration itself let’s be clear that’s an inside job, NOT an “outside review”.'

The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, said: 'New Yorkers have seen detailed, documented accounts of sexual harassment, multiple instances of intimidation, and the admitted withholding of information on the deaths of over 15,000 people. Questions of this magnitude cannot hang over the heads of New Yorkers as we fight off a pandemic and economic crisis. It’s clear what must now take place.'

Another powerful Democrat, House Rep. Jerry Nadler, released a statement on Sunday which read: 'The recent allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo are deeply troubling and deserve a thorough investigation. It must be transparent, impartial, and above all else, independent.'

New York City mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang called for an 'aggressive independent investigation', calling for an 'acknowledgement that harassment has no place in public service.'

'There must be an independent investigation - not one led by an individual selected by the Governor, but by the office of the Attorney General.'

Another powerful Democrat, House Rep. Jerry Nadler, released a statement on Sunday which read: 'The recent allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo are deeply troubling and deserve a thorough investigation.

‘It must be transparent, impartial, and above all else, independent.

‘As has become standard practice in the State of New York when allegations relate directly to the Executive, Governor Cuomo should refer the matter to the Attorney General, who should, in turn, appoint an independent investigator.’

The mayor of New York City, de Blasio, said: 'New Yorkers have seen detailed, documented accounts of sexual harassment, multiple instances of intimidation, and the admitted withholding of information on the deaths of over 15,000 people.

'Questions of this magnitude cannot hang over the heads of New Yorkers as we fight off a pandemic and economic crisis. It’s clear what must now take place.' 

'The accused CANNOT appoint the investigator. PERIOD,' tweeted House Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Long Island Democrat. 

'The continued allegations are deeply disturbing and concerning. 

In his statement Saturday, Cuomo described Bennett as a 'hardworking and valued member of the team during COVID' who he had tried to 'mentor'

'The behavior described has no place in the workplace. 

'A truly independent investigation must begin immediately.'

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, called for an independent investigator. 

State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-NY), Chair of Committee on Ethics and Internal Governance, called on Cuomo to resign in a stinging rebuke and statement.

'As a New Yorker, a legislator, Chair of the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee, and a survivor of sexual abuse, I am calling for Governor Cuomo to resign,' she said, along with her statement.

She added: 'I commend the courage of Ms. Bennett and Lindsey Boylan for coming forward.

'The harassment experienced by these former staffers is part of a clear pattern of abuse and manipulation by the Governor, and that pattern makes him unworthy of holding the highest office in New York.'

Heastie said for 'all allegations of harassment must be taken seriously. A truly independent investigation is warranted.'

New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Cousins said 'no' when asked if the investigation called for by Cuomo were sufficient, adding that the new allegations were 'deeply disturbing and concerning.'

New York City mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang called for an 'aggressive independent investigation', calling for an 'acknowledgement that harassment has no place in public service.' 

'For those wondering what it's like to work for the Cuomo admin, read @LindseyBoylan's story,' Bennett said in a Wednesday post

Cynthia Nixon, the former Sex and the City actress who ran against Cuomo for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial nomination in 2018, tweeted: 'Who asked the judge to review the new allegations? 

'If the answer is the Cuomo administration itself let’s be clear that’s an inside job, NOT an “outside review”.'

The pair of harassment allegations represent a deepening crisis for Cuomo, who just months ago was at the height of his popularity for his leadership during coronavirus pandemic..

In recent weeks, he has been assailed over revelations that his administration had underreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. 

Ron Kim, a state assemblyman, went public with complaints that Cuomo had threatened to destroy him politically over statements he made in the press, prompting other politicians to share stories about having been bullied by the governor.

Bennett did not immediately return a Twitter message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

She told the Times her most disturbing interaction with Cuomo happened June 5 when she was alone with him in his Albany office. 

In an essay published to Medium Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan - who worked as a special advisor to Cuomo in 2018 - charged that the Governor asked her to play strip poker and kissed on the lips without her permission. Cuomo has denied the allegations

She said Cuomo started asking her about her personal life, her thoughts on romantic relationships, including whether age was a factor, and said he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.

Bennett said she also dodged a question from Cuomo about hugging by saying she missed hugging her parents. 

She said Cuomo never touched her.

'I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,' Bennett told the Times. 

'And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.'

Bennett said Cuomo also told her he wanted a girlfriend, 'preferably in the Albany area,' and he was lonely since breaking up with Sandra Lee, a chef and TV personality.

Cuomo, she told the Times, responded by suggesting she put the tattoo on her buttocks.

Bennett said she informed Cuomo's chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, about the interaction less than a week later. 

In a crushing blow, Cuomo's second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, called for an independent review into the allegations on Saturday, saying: 'Everyone deserves to have their voice heard and taken seriously'

Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-NY), Chair of Committee on Ethics and Internal Governance, called on Cuomo to resign in a stinging rebuke and statement

A number of high profile Dems have released statement, turning on Cuomo and calling for an investigation into the allegations against him. Maya Wiley, who is running for mayor of New York City, said that she was disgusted by the allegations which she said were not denied by Cuomo

NYC Mayor hopeful Andrew Yang called for an 'aggressive independent investigation,' calling for an 'acknowledgement that harassment has no place in public service'

New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Cousins said 'no' when asked if the investigation called for by Cuomo for sufficient, communications director Mike Murphy told NY1 . Murphy added that Cousins was calling for Attorney General Letitia James to claim jurisdiction in the issue

She said she was transferred to another job on the opposite side of the Capitol. At the end of June she also gave a statement to a special counsel for Cuomo.

On Saturday, Garvey acknowledged that the complaint had been made and that Bennett had been transferred as a result to a position in which she had already been interested.

Garvey said in a statement that Bennett's allegations 'did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct' and Bennett 'was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled.'

'The determination reached based on the information Ms Bennett provided was that no further action was required which was consistent with Ms Bennett's wishes,' Garvey said.

Bennett told the newspaper she decided not to push for any further action by the administration. 

She said she liked her new job and 'wanted to move on.'

Jones, who would oversee the investigation, was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in 1995. 

As a judge, she struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act denying federal recognition of same-sex marriage in a ruling later upheld by the US Supreme Court.

After retiring, she joined the law firm Bracewell LLP, where her work focuses on corporate compliance and investigations.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (right) told CNN on Sunday that President Joe Biden wants an investigation into sexual assault and harassment claims against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

'It was hard to read that story as a woman,' Psaki said of the New York Times piece revealing the new allegations against Cuomo, adding the claims 'are serious'

Her arbitration work included a 2014 decision throwing out Ray Rice´s suspension by the NFL for punching his fiancé in an elevator in an attack recorded on video.

It remained uncertain whether lawmakers would accept her appointment.

Asked if Jones' review is 'truly independent,' Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, said, 'No it is not, and it should be done by the attorney general's office.'

State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, a Republican, said James should appoint a special prosecutor.

'The review suggested by someone handpicked by the Governor himself, is an outrageous, completely unacceptable idea. We need a truly independent investigation,' Ortt said in a statement.

Boylan said in Twitter postings Saturday night that she was proud of Bennett and alleged Cuomo 'tried to destroy many, including me, in the press.'

'You are not going to derail or destroy any more lives,' she tweeted.

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