Accusers detail ‘toxic work environment’ under Gov. Cuomo
Fox News correspondent Bryan Llenas reports from Brooklyn.
The lawyer of one of the women accusing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment is slamming the state assembly’s choice in retaining law firm Davis Polk to lead its impeachment investigation, calling it an “unacceptable conflict of interest” due to the firm’s alleged connection to the governor.
The New York State Assembly on Wednesday announced it had retained Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP to lead the impeachment probe for Cuomo, after seven women leveled allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
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The attorney for Charlotte Bennett, one of the women accusing Cuomo, pointed to the firm’s alleged connection to a Cuomo ally, and said their involvement would “taint the entire proceedings.”
“We were alarmed to learn that Speaker Heastie has hired Davis Polk to assist with the investigation, given the connection between Dennis Glazer, who spent more than 30 years as a partner at Davis Polk, and the governor,” Bennett attorney Debra Katz said Wednesday. “This is an unacceptable conflict of interest.”
Glazer is the husband of State Supreme Court Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who Cuomo appointed, and spent 31 years as a partner of Davis Polk. Cuomo also had appointed Glazer to the Board of SUNY Purchase and the Casino Sitting Board.
Fox News has requested comment from Davis Polk.
In this photo provided by CBS News, Norah O’Donnell, left, interviews Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell, Thursday March 4, 2021, in New York. Bennett, 25, is accusing Gov. Cuomo, 63, of sexual harassment. (Adam Verdugo/CBS News via AP)
Should lawmakers vote to hold an impeachment trial after their investigation, the outcome would be determined, in part, by the state’s seven Court of Appeals judges – all of whom were appointed by Cuomo.
“The court for the trial of impeachments shall be composed of the president of the senate, the senators, or the major part of them, and the judges of the court of appeals, or the major part of them,” the state constitution reads.
Those Court of Appeals judges are Glazer’s wife, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Rowan Wilson, Jenny Rivera, Leslie Stein, Eugene Fahey, Michael Garcia and Paul Feinman. All of them were appointed by Cuomo between 2013 and 2017.
Meanwhile, Katz argued that the impeachment investigation “must operate free of political influence and must be transparent, detailing for the public the steps being taken to protect the integrity of their impeachment investigation.”
“We already know the extent to which Gov. Cuomo has surrounded himself with people in the Executive Chamber who enabled his behavior and swept evidence of sexual harassment under the rug,” Katz continued. “If there is even a hint of political influence in the impeachment investigation, it will taint the entire proceedings.”
Katz added: “While Ms. Bennett is committed to cooperating with all appropriate governmental inquiries, including the impeachment investigation, the involvement of Davis Polk gives her pause. I suspect it will have the same effect on other women who were sexually harassed by the governor.”
The Davis Polk team aiding the House Assembly in its probe will include Angela Burgess, Martine Beamon and Greg Andres. Andres served as a prosecutor on former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team during the investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Speaker Carl Heastie has said the impeachment investigation will be “very broad,” potentially going beyond sexual harassment allegations and the scandal surrounding nursing home deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.
Seven women have publicly made allegations of inappropriate conduct against Cuomo. He has refused to resign and has denied many of the claims brought forward.
The three-term Democrat explained that his “playful” behavior may have been misinterpreted, or it may have been “insensitive” or “too playful.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James is also probing the sexual harassment claims against Cuomo.
Katz touted James’ “very impressive hires in Joon Kim and Ann Clark,” who she said has “a wealth of experience and independence.”
“This, of course, is critical to ensure that victims and witnesses, including current employees, feel comfortable coming forward,” Katz said. “Political independence is fundamental to the integrity of the investigation.”
Bennett, 25, a former aide to the governor, alleged that Cuomo sexually harassed her during an encounter in his office last June. The governor allegedly asked Bennett questions about her sex life, including whether she had ever been with an older man.
Bennett, 25, a former aide to the governor, alleged that Cuomo sexually harassed her during an encounter in his office last June.
Cuomo denied the allegation, saying in a statement that he “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” The governor has resisted calls to step down and criticized Democrats who urged him to resign prior to the completion of James’ investigation.
Bennett met with outside investigators for more than four hours as part of James’ investigation into the allegations against Cuomo. Bennett provided “more than 120 pages of contemporaneous records” as well as “other examples of documentary evidence,” according to Katz.
“We remain confident that their investigation will substantiate Charlotte’s claims of sexual harassment against Gov. Cuomo, as well as the failure of his senior staff to meet their mandatory reporting requirements under the very laws he signed,” Katz said in a statement. “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.”
Bennett’s attorney called for the investigators to “not only focus on Gov. Cuomo’s actions, but also on the culture of fear, abuse and secrecy that he and his most senior staff cultivated.”
Fox News’ Thomas Barrabi contributed to this report.
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