SDNY Alum Tapped to Lead Cuomo Harassment Probe

Amid snowballing demands by state leaders for his resignation, the governor called the response to his sexual harassment scandal “anti-democratic.”

This screenshot shows a Monday address at the New York Javits Center by Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Image by Courthouse News)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Former Acting U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon Kim will lead the state’s independent probe into mounting allegations of workplace sexual harassment leveled at Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York’s attorney general announced Monday.

Kim led the so-called “Sovereign District of New York” only briefly in a time of extreme upheaval during the early months of the Trump administration.

As the onetime deputy to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Kim took over the helm after Trump unceremoniously fired Bharara during a purge of Obama-appointees in March 2017.  

By January 2018, Kim was out, too, replaced by former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, a Trump donor appointed by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Kim has since become a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. In the Cuomo probe, he will be joined by Anne Clark, a partner at Vladeck, Raskin & Clark specializing in employment law.  

In a statement Monday afternoon, New York Attorney General Letitia James highlighted Kim and Clark’s “decades of experience conducting investigations and fighting to uphold the rule of law.”

“There is no question that they both have the knowledge and background necessary to lead this investigation and provide New Yorkers with the answers they deserve,” James remarked.

The referral to special counsel came a week ago after two former Cuomo aides, Lindsay Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, came forward against the governor with claims of inappropriate sexual conduct. 

Cuomo quickly apologized for what he termed “playful” behavior that had offended or made the women uncomfortable, but denied any inappropriate physical contact. 

According to a statement by James’ office, Kim and Clark’s probe will involve “issuing subpoenas and related compliance; examination of relevant documents and records; interviews, including formal depositions; and analysis of data and information pertinent to the investigation.”

Bennett’s attorney Debra Katz commended the Monday appointment of Kim and Clark as an indication how seriously the state is taking the matter. 

“We are encouraged by the experience and background of the attorneys who will be investigating Charlotte’s claims and expect the investigation will extend to the claims of the other women who we know to be out there,” said Katz. “It is important that this investigation isn’t just centered around what Governor Cuomo said and did. It must also focus on the culture of secrecy, abuse and fear that he fostered among his staff — frequently in violation of the very laws he signed to protect workers from sexual harassment.” 

At a press conference on Sunday, Cuomo assured reporters that he was not going to step down “because of the allegations.” 

“The premise of resigning because of allegations is actually anti-democratic and we’ve always done the exact opposite,” Cuomo said at a ceremony to sign an emergency powers bill that says he must give the Legislature at least five days’ notice before enacting emergency restrictions.

That move came after New York’s Senate and Assembly voted Friday  to revoke emergency powers granted to Cuomo at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The bill does not rescind any of Cuomo’s current directives, like a statewide mask mandate or limits on indoor dining, but it gives the Legislature power to repeal any executive order by simple majority. 

“Anybody has the ability to make an allegation in democracy and that’s great, but it’s then the credibility of the allegation, and we’ve gone through this with the legislature,” Cuomo said. “So no, there is no way I resign,” he added.  “Let’s do the Attorney General investigation, let’s get the findings, and then we’ll go from there.” 

Adding to the growing list of officials who have called for Cuomo’s resignation are New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“New York is still in the midst of this pandemic and is still facing the societal, health and economic impacts of it,” Stewart-Cousins said Sunday. “We need to govern without daily distraction. For the good of the state Governor Cuomo must resign. 

Heastie, the Democratic speaker representing the Bronx, for her part said the allegations Cuomo faces “have no place whatsoever in government, the workplace or anywhere else.”

Cuomo did not address the allegations or calls for his resignation when he spoke Monday at the Javits Convention Center in Hell’s Kitchen, which had served as a temporary field hospital last year as the state tried to contain its surging coronavirus cases.

With the building now functioning as a 24-hour vaccination hub distributing the newly approved Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine, Cuomo stood with members of the city’s Black clergy, imploring the Black and Hispanic communities to overcome hesitancy and come forward for the Covid-19 vaccine. 

“We can’t put the needle in your arm if you don’t bring your arm forward,” the governor urged. 

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