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Gov. Cuomo Agrees To Attorney General James' Demand For Legal Referral To Investigate Sexual Harassment Allegations

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday responded after facing a second allegation of sexual harassment. It came as he battled with Attorney General Letitia James over the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate the allegations.

It's a crisis on top of a crisis on top of a crisis for Cuomo, who until recently was regarded as something of a political mastermind, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported Sunday.

Crisis one is the mounting allegations of sexual harassment.

Crisis two, Cuomo forced to reverse course and propose having attorney Attorney General James and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore appoint an independent investigator, after his attempt to name his own investigator was roundly criticized.

Crisis three, the attorney general refused to act, instead demanding Cuomo send her a legal referral so her office can supervise the investigation and, this is key, compel testimony.

"I do not accept the governor's proposal," James said. "The governor must provide this referral so an independent investigation with subpoena power can be conducted."

Sources told Kramer that whether James handles the probe herself, or names a special prosecutor from outside her office, she wants the ability to force people to cooperate. That is subpoena power.

The developments came after a second woman, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, claimed Cuomo harassed her when she was an executive assistant and health policy aide.

In an interview with the New York Times, Bennett alleged Cuomo asked her late last spring, "numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s -- comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship."

In a statement, Cuomo also said that he never intended to offend anyone, and "at work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny ... I mean no offense ... and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business. 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."

Team Cuomo also denied allegations by another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, that he kissed her and asked her to play strip poker in 2017. Boylan is running for Manhattan borough president

The governor has faced an avalanche of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

President Joe Biden's press secretary, Jen Psaki, also called for an independent probe.

"President Biden has been consistent that he believes that every woman should be heard, should be treated with respect and with dignity. Charlotte should be treated with respect and dignity. So should Lindsey," Psaki said.

Late Sunday, the governor's office caved, agreeing to the attorney general's demand for legal referral, saying the independent investigator would be designated as a special independent deputy attorney general, with all the powers of the office.

James released the following statement in response to Cuomo's announcement:

"We expect to receive a 63(8) referral with subpoena power to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, in line with our demands and New York state law. The referral would be made solely to the attorney general's office. This is not a responsibility we take lightly. We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation," James said.

Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior advisor to Cuomo, released a statement saying all members of the governor's office will cooperate fully with the probe. She added the governor's office will have no further comment until the report is complete.

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