White House: Probe into allegations against Cuomo should be quick, thorough

17 March 2021 - 10:47 By Reuters
Gov. Andrew Cuomo removes his mask during a visit to a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccination site, at the State University of New York in Old Westbury, New York, US March 15, 2021.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo removes his mask during a visit to a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccination site, at the State University of New York in Old Westbury, New York, US March 15, 2021.
Image: Mark Lennihan/Pool via REUTERS

President Joe Biden finds the sexual misconduct allegations levelled against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to be troubling and believes that the investigation into them should be quick and thorough, the White House said on Monday.

Biden has not spoken directly with Cuomo, who now chairs the National Governors Association and was expected to join a weekly call with the president on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told a briefing.

The 63-year-old Cuomo faces accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct levelled by at least seven women, including former aides, and is under pressure from disclosures that his administration underreported the number of nursing home residents killed in New York state by Covid-19.

“New developments seem to happen every day. We find them troubling. The president finds them troubling, hard to read,” Psaki said. “Every woman who steps forward needs to be treated with dignity and respect.”

New York state attorney-general Letitia James last week named a team of outside lawyers, one of them a former federal prosecutor, to lead an investigation into accusations that the governor harassed women through unwanted, sexually suggestive comments or inappropriate physical contact, including unsolicited kissing.

One of Cuomo's accusers, Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant and policy adviser to the governor, met with investigators via Zoom for over four hours on Monday, her lawyer, Debra Katz, said in a statement retweeted by Bennett.

Bennett furnished investigators with more than 120 pages of “contemporaneous records, as well as other examples of documentary evidence, to corroborate her accusations against Gov. Cuomo and his staff,” Katz said.

“She also provided detailed information about the sexually hostile work environment the governor fostered in both his Manhattan and Albany offices and his deliberate effort to create rivalries and tension among female staffers on whom he bestowed attention,” Katz added.

The governor has denied any misconduct and vowed to co-operate with the inquiry by James' office.

Cuomo has acknowledged that it had been a “custom” for him to kiss and hug people when greeting them, and has said he was sorry for any behaviour that made “people feel uncomfortable.”

Biden declined on Sunday to call on Cuomo to resign, saying he wanted to await the outcome of an investigation into the matter.

Asked if Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, should step down, Biden told reporters: “I think the investigation is under way and we should see what it brings us.”

On Friday, New York's two Democratic US senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and most of the state's congressional delegation, including leading progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, urged Cuomo, now in his third term as governor, to resign.

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