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Ex-Cuomo aide meets with investigators for 4 hours in harassment probe

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during an interview on CBS Evening News with Norah O'Donnell. Credit: Adam Verdugo/CBS News

ALBANY — Charlotte Bennett, the former aide who accused Cuomo of "predatory behavior," met Monday with investigators for "more than four hours," her lawyer said, providing them with more than "120 pages of contemporaneous records."

Bennett also gave "examples of documentary evidence to corroborate her accusations against (Cuomo) and his senior staff," Debra Katz, Bennett’s attorney, said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

Bennett’s meeting with investigators was one of several developments Monday on the investigations engulfing Cuomo, a third-term Democrat:

  • The Assembly impeachment inquiry, which is separate from the investigation by the attorney general's office, will move forward with the likely announcement of an outside law firm to begin the probe, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said. He said the probe will be "very broad" and not solely focused on the sexual harassment allegations. Cuomo is also under federal investigation regarding his administration’s handling of COVID-19 and nursing homes.
  • The Biden administration said it was "concerned, of course," about reports that Cuomo’s vaccine czar was calling county executives in New York to gauge their support for the governor. At least one county executive reportedly filed a preliminary complaint of a possible ethics violation.

The 63-year-old governor faces allegations of sexual harassment by three former aides along with other women, as well as the nursing home investigation. He suffered major political defections Friday with 15 Democratic members of New York’s House delegation as well as Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand saying he should resign.

Defying them, Cuomo said he would not resign because the allegations weren’t true. He also said elected leaders calling for him to quit are "reckless and dangerous."

Bennett, 25, met Monday with investigators appointed by State Attorney General Letitia James, Katz said.

"The investigators have been moving quickly, and with sensitivity, to get to the heart of these allegations," Katz said. "We remain confident that their investigation will substantiate Charlotte’s claims of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo, as well as the failure of his senior staff to meet their mandatory reporting requirements under the very laws he signed."

Katz said Bennett also provided information about the "sexually hostile work environment" and Cuomo’s "effort to create rivalries and tension among female staffers on whom he bestowed attention."

Katz added: "One piece of new information that came to light today was the governor’s preoccupation with his hand size and what the large size of his hands indicated to Charlotte and other members of his staff."

Cuomo’s office didn’t comment immediately on Katz’ statement.

The governor had received what some saw as a break Sunday when President Joe Biden, a Cuomo ally, didn’t call for him to resign but said the investigations should be allowed to proceed.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the administration was concerned about reports about Larry Schwartz, the former secretary to the governor who had returned to state service to lead Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force.

He has been contacting county Democratic chairmen to determine their loyalty to Cuomo. The Washington Post reported some county officials felt they were being pressured to support Cuomo or risk losing vaccines.

Schwartz has said that he did nothing wrong and that his calls about political support had no link to vaccine distribution.

Long Island’s two county executives, both Democrats, said they weren’t pressured.

"At no time did I feel that vaccine allocation was being connected to support for the governor," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said about conversations with Schwartz.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said: "I explained that there were serious allegations made and that I was supportive of an independent investigation. At no point did the topic of vaccine distribution come up during the call."

But Long Island’s four Republican state senators said they want the Biden administration to take over vaccine distribution in New York, following the reports about Schwartz’ political phone calls.

"The last thing county leaders need right now is to have political pressure placed on them by the vaccine czar at a time when they are undertaking the enormous task of providing lifesaving vaccinations to our seniors and vulnerable residents throughout New York State," said Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk).

In Albany, Heastie said the Assembly impeachment investigation was moving forward, led by Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), head of the Judiciary Committee.

He said most of the 107 Democrats who control the 150-seat chamber favored awaiting the investigations rather than calling for Cuomo to resign now.

"There are some members who want an immediate consideration of impeachment," Heastie told reporters Monday. "But I’d say the overwhelming majority … believe in due process and that’s why we moved forward to have the Judiciary Committee launch an investigation."

With Michael Gormley and Cecilia Dowd

State & Region