A New York state Republican and other critics – including former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon — reacted with derision Saturday after a retired judge was named to conduct a “review” of sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
After Cuomo authorized that an outside review be conducted following the latest allegations raised by former aide Charlotte Bennett, the governor’s special counsel, Beth Garvey, announced the inquiry would be led by Barbara Jones, a former federal judge.
But critics of Cuomo quickly noted that Jones is a former law-firm colleague of Steve Cohen, a former top aide to Cuomo. They wondered if Jones could bring the impartiality a review of serious allegations would require.
“Who asked the judge to review the new allegations?” Nixon asked. “If the answer is the Cuomo administration itself let’s be clear that’s an inside job, NOT an outside review.
In a previous post Friday, Nixon scoffed at a statement that Cohen made Thursday, defending Cuomo, his former boss. Cohen’s remarks came after the sexual harassment allegations from Cuomo’s first accuser, Lindsey Boylan.
“I can tell you never in my time working with the governor, the former attorney general, private citizen Andrew Cuomo, I have never seen anything of the like of what Ms. Boylan has described,” Cohen told reporters, according to the New York Daily News. “His conduct has always been in my presence with the members of other staff, appropriate, not that it is always fun-loving and a good time, but it is always appropriate and he pushes to get results.”
But Nixon, who launched a bid to challenge Cuomo for governor in 2018, wasn’t buying Cohen’s defense of the Democrat.
“To Steve Cohen who never witnessed Cuomo harass women,” Nixon wrote, “If this isn’t incredibly obvious, he’s not going to do it in front of you so SIT DOWN.”
Other critics of the choice of Jones as the judge for the Cuomo review included Republican state Assemblyman Mike Lawler, who called for Cuomo’s immediate resignation.
“@NYGovCuomo’s ‘independent’ investigator Barbara Jones once worked with the Governor’s former Secretary, Steve Cohen,” Lawler wrote on Twitter. “Ya know, the guy who just went on the record defending Cuomo the other day. Barbara Jones should immediately decline the position.”
In a subsequent tweet, Lawler called on Cuomo to resign and called on state Attorney General Letitia James to “appoint a special prosecutor to investigate all claims against the Governor and his complicit staff.”
In 2013, an item in Crain’s New York Business said Jones, then 65, was joining Cohen at law firm Zuckerman Spaeder after serving 17 years as a U.S. district court judge and 23 years as a federal prosecutor.
Cohen has known Cuomo for decades and is currently chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., the Daily News reported.
At least two former aides to Cuomo have accused the governor of sexual harassment in the past week.
First Boylan, in an essay on the website Medium, accused the governor of unwanted kissing and touching while she worked in his office. She also claimed Cuomo had staffers arranged meetings with her where he made inappropriate comments.
“Let’s play strip poker,” Boylan said Cuomo remarked on a flight from an event in October 2017.
A statement from Cuomo’s office on Wednesday denied the claims.
“As we said before, Ms. Boylan’s claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false,” press secretary Caitlin Girouard said.
Then on Saturday, Bennett told The New York Times that Cuomo allegedly “asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men.”
In a news release Saturday, Cuomo called Bennett a “hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID” who has “every right to speak out.”
“When she came to me and opened up about being a sexual assault survivor and how it shaped her and her ongoing efforts to create an organization that empowered her voice to help other survivors, I tried to be supportive and helpful,” Cuomo said in a statement, which was issued to the Times. “Ms. Bennett’s initial impression was right: I was trying to be a mentor to her. I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.”
Cuomo added that he would “have no further comment” until a “full and thorough outside review” of Bennett’s claims is conducted and concluded.
The sexual harassment allegations followed a torrent of criticism against Cuomo over his handling of the coronavirus among patients in the state’s nursing homes. The accusations there include the alleged underreporting of deaths attributable to the virus after the governor called for patients to enter nursing homes following treatment at hospitals.
Fox News’ Vandana Rambaran and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this story.