ALBANY — For the first time, New York Attorney General Letitia James fired back Wednesday at former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s criticism of the sexual harassment investigation that prompted his dramatic resignation last month.
Speaking at a Manhattan event hosted by the Association for a Better New York, a business group, James outlined the ways she said her investigation of a sitting governor differed from two investigations of governors that Cuomo led when he was attorney general, probes that damaged his predecessors.
Her probe was more thorough and more independent, she said. And she said she’d waited for an official investigation referral from the governor to begin her probe while Cuomo did not.
The attorney general also said the former governor is taking shots at her but still hasn’t "held himself accountable," not only for sexually harassing multiple women but also breaking trust with voters.
James’ report, released Aug. 3 after more than five months of investigation, concluded that Cuomo broke multiple laws in sexually harassing 11 women, some of whom were current and former staffers. With the Assembly vowing to vote on possible impeachment by the end of the month, Cuomo resigned Aug. 24.
Cuomo allies subsequently have denounced James as politically motivated and claimed she wanted to clear the way for her campaign for governor.
She has been mentioned widely as a possible Democratic candidate — she even outlined some generalities about improving state government and criticized Cuomo’s handling of information about COVID-19 deaths in her Wednesday speech — while shying away from questions about running.
But she didn’t shy away from striking back at Cuomo.
"Since that report came out, the former governor has spent a lot of energy criticizing it and me. Until now, I have taken the high road. I have chosen not to respond. But that changes today," James said.
"Now, when Mr. Cuomo was attorney general, he investigated two sitting governors," James began, punctuating the air with two fingers and referring to Cuomo’s probes of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and then-Gov. David Paterson.
James did not go into detail about Cuomo probes about Paterson involving himself in an aide’s domestic violence case and, separately, receiving free New York Yankees tickets. Instead, she drew more narrowlyly on Cuomo’s probe of Spitzer’s release of information intended to politically damage Joseph Bruno, then the Republican leader of the State Senate.
Cuomo’s report, issued in 2007, wound up politically damaging Spitzer, a fellow Democrat, who resigned the next year amid a prostitution scandal.
James, referring to Cuomo, said: "Let’s compare what he did to what I did."
"My office began this investigation based on a lawful referral from the governor. By contrast, Mr. Cuomo did not wait for a referral," James began. "My office appointed outside, independent investigators. By contrast, Mr. Cuomo used his own staff."
Her office took five months to complete its probe of a governor. Cuomo took 20 days.
She noted her investigation was wider: interviews of 179 people and reviews of tens of thousands of pieces of evidence, outlining in "painful detail the treatment these women were subjected to."
"Mr. Cuomo has a lot to say on these matters, but he has never taken responsibility for his own conduct. He’s never held himself accountable for how his behavior affected our state government," James said.
She said Cuomo, who served nearly 11 years in office, broke the trust of "people who believed in him, including myself."
"No one is above the law and our state can do better moving forward," the attorney general said.
Rich Azzopardi, a former Cuomo aide and his current spokesman, responded in a statement that echoed the previous administration’s complaints about the investigation.
"As I’ve said, it should raise serious red flags that the AG and her staff duck every time specific questions about omissions and inaccuracies in the AG’s report are raised," Azzopardi said. "The public deserves specific answers from the AG as to the credibility of her report — especially while she mulls a run for governor."
James is among a handful of Democrats under discussion as a possible gubernatorial candidate; Gov. Kathy Hochul, who succeeded Cuomo upon his resignation, already has said she’s running.
At the Wednesday breakfast event, James said she’s focused on her current job, then jokingly cut off a question about her future.
As the moderator began to ask, "Are you running for —" James jumped in before he could finish, saying with a laugh, "So, it was great. It was a wonderful breakfast. … And I must leave you now."