New York Attorney General Letitia James released a damming 165-page report on Tuesday, outlining and substantiating claims of at least 11 women who say Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed them.
However, under New York’s executive law, an attorney general’s hands are pretty tied after that.
AG James was only given a referral from Cuomo’s office to open a civil inquiry, back in February, which means she never would have been able to bring forward criminal charges.
This is why, Attorney General James wrote in the report, “While concluding that the governor engaged in unlawful sexual harassment, we do not reach in this report a conclusion as to whether the conduct amounts to or should be the subject of criminal prosecution.”
Former Republican New York state attorney and now partner at the law firm Lippes Mathias, Dennis Vacco, says James was limited in what she could do from the beginning.
“The section that she was authorized to pursue this matter under gave her only civil enforcement authority,” Vacco said. “So while she could compel testimony by subpoenaing witnesses to come forward and she could compel production of documents and phone records, bank records, all of that, the end result of this report was what was always going to happen because she was not given prosecutorial authority. So that could be left up to the DAs that might be looking at her report, but it was not part of her responsibility here.”
Vacco said a case like this, however, is why the Legislature should consider tweaking the law and something he has pushed for in the past.
“I still believe in the appropriateness of the attorney general having some primary responsibility, perhaps even if it’s limited to public corruption,” Vacco explained. “I think what all of this suggests is that perhaps the Legislature ought to consider expanding the authority of the attorney general so that the attorney general has the ability to actually bring criminal cases in instances where the allegations involve public corruption.”
AG James did suggest that next steps will be up to lawmakers and local district attorneys.
Already at least five district attorneys from around the state have said they are looking into sexual harassment allegations that allegedly took place in their counties.
Prosecutors in Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, Nassau and Oswego counties have all requested documents from the attorney general’s investigation.
On Friday, the first criminal complaint was filed against the governor, by the unnamed woman who is identified in the attorney general’s report as Executive Assistant #1, with the Albany County Sherriff’s Office.
According to the report, the woman alleges that Cuomo groped her while she was at the Executive Mansion and put his hand up her blouse.
Cuomo has repeatedly said he has done nothing wrong and on Friday, Cuomo’s lawyer Rita Glavin, even went as far to say Cuomo “hardly knew” Executive Assistant #1 who accused him of sexual harassment.