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White House, members of Congress call for probe into sexual harassment claims against Cuomo

Calls for an independent investigation into claims of sexual harassment leveled against Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the last week grew Sunday, with the White House and members of Congress from New York on board with an independent review of the allegations.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during an interview on CNN Sunday morning that President Biden has been briefed on the claims and supports an immediate investigation.

“President Biden has been consistent that he believes every woman should be heard, be treated with respect, and dignity,” Psaki said. “There should be an independent review looking into these allegations, and that’s certainly something he supports and we believe should move forward as quickly as possible.”

Those comments came after a second former aide to Cuomo, Charlotte Bennett, told the New York Times Saturday that the three-term governor had asked her inappropriate questions while they were alone, including if she’d be interested in having sex with older men.

Bennett, who’s in her mid-20s, said Cuomo also asked her about her personal relationships, whether she was monogamous, and told her he wouldn’t be opposed to a relationship with someone as young as 23 years old.

At the time, Bennett was working in the Cuomo administration as an executive assistant, but moved to another job in state government after she reported the governor’s behavior to his chief of staff.

Bennett shared her story with the Times after another top aide to Cuomo, Lindsey Boylan, accused the governor of similar conduct.

Boylan, a former top official at the state’s economic development agency who’s now running for Manhattan borough president, claimed Cuomo offered to play strip poker with her, made several inappropriate comments about her, and tried to kiss her at his office in the state capitol.

While Boylan’s claims date back to 2017, Bennett said her interaction with Cuomo happened last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic. She no longer works in state government.

Cuomo has denied Boylan’s claims, but acknowledged those of Bennett in a statement Sunday, and said he never intended to make her uncomfortable.

“I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate,” Cuomo said. “The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.”

Beth Garvey, special counsel to Cuomo, said in a statement Saturday evening that the administration had selected former federal judge Barbara Jones to lead an inquiry into Bennett’s claims, but that idea has largely been rejected by both state and federal lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, each said in separate statements Saturday evening that they wanted to see a “truly independent investigation” conducted by someone outside Cuomo’s reach.

That call was echoed by several Democrats in Congress from New York Sunday, with each backing an independent inquiry into the claims.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from Brooklyn who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said Cuomo should refer the matter to New York Attorney General Letitia James, who should then appoint a special counsel to review the allegations.

“The recent allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo are deeply troubling and deserve a thorough investigation,” Nadler said. “It must be transparent, impartial, and above all else, independent.”

Several other members of Congress chimed in, saying they would also support an independent inquiry into the claims.

Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat who represents part of Long Island, said Cuomo’s inquiry led by Barbara Jones should be tossed in favor of an independent probe.

“This is no joke. There must be an independent investigation into these allegations,” Rice said. “The accused CANNOT appoint the investigator. PERIOD.”

Rep. Grace Meng, a Democrat from Queens, said the same.

“I am deeply troubled by recent allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo,” Meng said. “I am calling for a transparent and independent investigation now.”

Rep. Antonio Delgado, a Democrat from the Hudson Valley, took the same position as Nadler, saying Cuomo should refer the investigation to the state Attorney General’s Office, which should appoint someone outside state government to consider the matter.

“Governor Cuomo should follow precedent by referring this matter to the Attorney General, who should appoint an independent investigator,” Delgado said. “Breaking from past practice in the face of such serious allegations is not acceptable.”

Boylan, the first woman to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment in recent days, went further, and said Cuomo should resign.

“His abuse of power never ends. He does not get to choose his judge and jury. We do,” said Boylan, who lost in the 2020 Democratic primary for a congressional seat. “And what is abundantly clear to me is the governor should resign.”

Republicans in New York largely mirrored the position now held by Democrats, saying the matter should be referred to the Attorney General’s Office and handled by a special investigator. State Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said the probe from Jones wouldn’t be impartial.

“These serious and disturbing allegations indicate a pattern of abuse that must be investigated outside of the governor’s reach,” Langworthy said. “We have an independently elected AG for a reason — Attorney General Tish James needs to do her job.”

State lawmakers are due back in Albany Monday, when they’ll likely make a final decision on how to move forward.

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