Cuomo acquiesces to demand that Attorney General Letitia James control inquiry

Top Democrats called on investigative power to be granted to James

New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who in January released a report that claimed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration dramatically undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths in the state, will have full control over the sexual harassment inquiry that threatens his administration.

James said Sunday that she expected to be granted a referral that would give her office subpoena power and allow her to deputize an outside law firm for "a rigorous and independent investigation" after Cuomo announced Sunday he would grant her request.

Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, both Democrats from New York, called for the investigative power to be granted to James "so that she can conduct a transparent and thorough investigation with subpoena power."

The Democrat & Chronicle reported that Cuomo — at first — wanted to refer the issue to Barbara Jones, a former U.S. district judge, who worked with one of his former advisers.

After that idea was rejected, the paper reported that Cuomo wanted James to work with a judge that he appointed to help select an appropriate independent attorney to look into the matter.

Over several hours Sunday, James and other leading party officials rejected Cuomo’s proposals for how an investigation might proceed.

The paper said by 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the governor agreed to relinquish the power to James. Neither office immediately responded to emails from Fox News.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden also supported an independent review that "should move forward as quickly as possible."

Cuomo has been accused by a former aide, Lindsey Boylan, of orchestrating  a "pervasive" culture of "sexual harassment and bullying." She posted on Medium that Cuomo once suggested that they play "strip poker" during a flight in October 2017 and said he once kissed her on the lips.

Boylan, a Democrat running for Manhattan borough president, said that during her more than three years in the Democrat’s administration, Cuomo "would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs."

Charlotte Bennett, who is described by The New York Times as "an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration until she left in November," alleges that Cuomo "asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men."

Cuomo’s office denied Boylan’s allegations. He said he never made advances toward 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 issued a statement on Sunday to address the sexual harassment allegations, but even the statement was criticized as tone-deaf by critics.

"At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good-natured way," the governor explained. "I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business."

Cuomo continued, "I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that."

The scandal is the second one that Cuomo faces, and James plays a central role on both.

James said last month that nursing home COVID-19 deaths in New York were undercounted by as much as 50%, prompting calls for Cuomo to appear before the House Oversight Committee. A spokesman for Cuomo slammed the request as "empty political theater." 

Fox News' Brooke Singman, Joesph A. Wulfshon and the Associated Press contributed to this report