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Cuomo's views of attorney general's probe grow more negative

Governor Cuomo's office

It’s been over two months since New York Attorney General Tish James began investigating multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor, who at first expressed confidence in James’ ability to be objective, has increasingly questioned her motives.

When the allegations -- which include incidents of unwanted kisses, hugging, and in one instance, groping under an aide’s blouse -- first became known, the governor was contrite. He denied any wrongdoing, but he said in early March that he did not mean for any of his actions to harm anyone.

“I truly and deeply apologize for it,” Cuomo said on March 3. “I feel awful about it.”

The governor, after some initial resistance, gave James a referral to conduct an investigation. He seemed to express confidence in its fairness and urged New Yorkers to withhold judgment until its outcome.

“I will fully cooperate with it, and then you will have the facts,” Cuomo said. “And make a decision when you know the facts.”

But not long afterward, Cuomo and his aides started calling James’ motives into question. 

After James received a referral from the state comptroller to expand her investigation into allegations that Cuomo improperly used staff to help him write and promote a memoir, senior adviser Rich Azzopardi told the New York Times that “both the comptroller and the attorney general have spoken to people about running for governor.”

Azzopardi said it was “unethical” to wield criminal referral authority to further their political self-interest‎. Cuomo has said staff volunteered to help him with his book.

In recent weeks, when reporters ask the governor about the probe, his answers often include a reference to the attorney general’s possible political motivations.

“I don’t want to comment on the ongoing review, and I think everybody is aware of politics in Albany and political realities,” Cuomo said on May 10. 

Cuomo, who earlier asked everyone not to form opinions about the allegations against him until the probe is finished, has now begun making his own predictions about the report's outcome. 

In late April, he was asked if he would resign or accept disciplinary measures if James concludes that he violated the state’s sexual harassment laws. He said he thinks he will be exonerated.

“The report can’t say anything different because I didn’t do anything wrong,” Cuomo said on April 26.

He’s made it increasingly clear that he has no intention of leaving office.

“I’m not resigning,” he said.

Cuomo’s remarks led Debra Katz, the attorney for one of his accusers, Charlotte Bennett, to compare the governor’s actions to those of former President Donald Trump, who often dismissed allegations against him as a political “witch hunt."

Katz, in a statement, said Cuomo’s “newfound allegations of political motivation” are a “dangerous and transparent effort to undermine public confidence in the investigation” in order to try to save his political career.

Katz said if the probe finds Cuomo violated state laws, then he must resign, or the Legislature must act to remove him from office.

There’s no indication when James might be finished with the investigations. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.