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Cuomo Could Be Compelled to Testify in Sexual-Harassment Inquiry

When a staff of out of doors investigators begins to look at sex harassment allegations lodged towards Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, its scope could also be far broader than first anticipated.

The staff, which will likely be employed by Letitia James, the New York State lawyer basic, can have far-reaching subpoena powers to request troves of paperwork and compel witnesses, together with the governor, to testify beneath oath.

The independent inquiry might also scrutinize not simply the sexual harassment accusations made by two former aides final week, however potential claims from different girls as nicely.

Ultimately, which is more likely to be months from now, the investigators will likely be required to supply a ultimate report, the outcomes of which might be politically devastating for Mr. Cuomo.

“The top sport is {that a} report that discovered him culpable would carry stress to bear on him personally, on his regime, on the Legislature to behave,” stated Nina Pirrotti, a lawyer who focuses on employment legislation and sexual harassment instances. “However I don’t precisely know the way it will play out.”

Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, is navigating some of the precarious and unsure intervals of his greater than 10 years in workplace, simply months after he had emerged as a nationwide chief early within the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor is going through a federal probe into his administration’s choice to withhold knowledge on nursing dwelling deaths, a scandal that has led to requires impeachment and has spurred state legislators to noticeably contemplate curbing the emergency powers they granted him initially of the pandemic.

However the harassment accusations might be much more damaging for a governor who has prided himself on advancing protections for women in the workplace.

The primary accusation got here from Lindsey Boylan, who used to work for his administration. Ms. Boylan revealed an essay on Wednesday that detailed a collection of unsettling encounters she stated she had with Mr. Cuomo, together with an occasion when she stated he gave her an unsolicited kiss on the lips.

Then, on Saturday, The New York Occasions published an article about Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former entry-level staffer within the governor’s workplace who accused him of asking invasive questions, together with whether or not she was monogamous and had intercourse with older males. She stated she interpreted the remarks as sexual advances.

Mr. Cuomo’s workplace denied Ms. Boylan’s allegations on the time. On Sunday, following Ms. Bennett’s account, Mr. Cuomo issued an announcement during which he denied propositioning or touching anybody inappropriately, however apologized for office feedback that he stated “have been misinterpreted as an undesirable flirtation.”

On Monday, following public back-and-forth over who would conduct the investigation, Ms. James acquired the governor’s authorization to open an inquiry beneath a section of state law that enables her workplace to “inquire into issues regarding the public peace, public security and public justice.”

The claims from each girls are actually on the middle of that investigation, the contours of that are nonetheless materializing however may prod deeply into the internal workings of the governor’s workplace and the way sexual misconduct allegations are dealt with there.

Mr. Cuomo’s workplace has indicated that the governor’s workplace would “voluntarily cooperate absolutely” and that it had instructed all state workers to take action as nicely.

Investigators will in the end produce a public report, which is certain to incorporate a abstract and evaluation of their findings, possibly even suggestions. Specialists stated the civil inquiry may have a look at whether or not Mr. Cuomo violated the state’s human rights legal guidelines and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law that protects towards harassment due to an individual’s intercourse.

“These girls do have the choice, doubtlessly, to carry claims towards their employer, the State of New York, for Governor Cuomo’s conduct,” Ms. Pirrotti stated, including that the details within the report may assist victims get well financial and emotional misery damages.

As investigators corroborate particulars, she stated the inquiry may “widen and widen” to incorporate different sexual harassment claims which may floor throughout the investigation. On Monday, a third woman, Anna Ruch, got here ahead and stated that she was “confused and shocked and embarrassed” when Mr. Cuomo requested to kiss her at a marriage reception.

In a referral letter on Monday to the lawyer basic, Beth Garvey, a particular counsel and senior adviser to the governor, stated the inquiry would broadly look into “allegations of and circumstances surrounding sexual harassment claims made towards the governor.”

Ms. James, a Democrat, stated her workplace would oversee “a rigorous and impartial investigation” however would rent a legislation agency to spearhead it, a transfer that many noticed as an try to keep away from any look that politics would affect the investigation. The governor endorsed Ms. James’s run for lawyer basic in 2018, and he or she has been rumored as a potential candidate to problem Mr. Cuomo in a main subsequent 12 months, when he could be up for re-election.

Ms. James had not chosen an impartial legislation agency as of Monday.

Attorneys from the agency could be deputized and can have the ability to subpoena witnesses, in addition to any paperwork, information, papers and books related to the investigation. Failure to adjust to a subpoena may end in a misdemeanor.

Kevin Mintzer, a Manhattan-based lawyer who has represented quite a few girls in sexual harassment instances, stated that whereas there isn’t any single strategy to conduct an investigation just like the one Mr. Cuomo will face, he would count on it to proceed alongside the identical strains utilized by these run by plaintiffs’ legal professionals like himself and by firms enterprise inner inquiries.

First, Mr. Mintzer stated, investigators are more likely to assemble any related paperwork, together with emails and textual content messages that bear not solely the accusations introduced by Ms. Boylan and Ms. Bennett, but additionally on these made by every other potential accusers.

Then, Mr. Mintzer stated, witness interviews may observe, as investigators determine who they wish to communicate with formally and beneath oath.

Sooner or later, the main focus of the probe will flip on to Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Mintzer stated, although that’s more likely to occur solely as soon as investigators are absolutely versed within the case.

“Earlier than they query the governor — an occasion of apparent significance — they are going to be nicely ready with what the paperwork and different folks have stated,” stated Mr. Mintzer.

The contents of the report are more likely to decide Mr. Cuomo’s destiny, however some state legislators have already signaled that impeachment proceedings might be thought of.

“We’ll watch for the report, however I do imagine that one thing must be finished in the end and whether or not or not the governor can proceed is an open query,” State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat and deputy majority chief within the higher chamber, informed NY1 on Monday.

Some critics have additionally raised questions concerning the governor’s potential affect over the investigation.

Some famous that, beneath state law, the governor could be required to obtain a weekly report on the investigation. The legislation additionally says the governor should countersign any checks used to pay for the inquiry, which the Legislature is meant to supply funds for.

“I feel Letitia James is impartial, however the best way the construction is ready up, it’s onerous to retain independence when you must report back to the governor and the governor is concerned with the funds,” stated State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Lengthy Island and a former prosecutor. “It’s particularly perverse when it’s the governor himself who’s beneath the microscope.”

Mr. Kaminsky has launched laws to permit the state lawyer basic to independently begin legal investigations and not using a referral, likening it to the authority native district attorneys possess. “It’s not revolutionary,” he stated.

Ms. Garvey, the particular counsel to the governor, informed Ms. James within the referral letter that the governor would waive the weekly studies “as a result of nature of this overview.” Mr. Kaminsky, nonetheless, questioned whether or not such an exception was permitted beneath state legislation.

It isn’t clear how lengthy the investigation would possibly take. Mr. Mintzer stated that the timeline will probably be pushed as a lot by political concerns as by authorized points.

“This can be a matter of immense public curiosity and other people wish to unravel it,” he stated, “and I’m certain that would be the mandate from the lawyer basic.”

Jonah Bromwich and Alan Feuer contributed reporting.

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