White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday addressed the multiple allegations of sexual harassment made against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying the Biden administration supports an investigation of him and believes the three women making the accusations should be heard.
“The benefit of doing a briefing every day is that I can certainly speak on behalf of the president and the vice president. And so let me reiterate that they both believe that every woman coming forward should be heard, should be treated with dignity and treated with respect,” Psaki said during a briefing with reporters. “As you all know, the New York attorney general will oversee an independent investigation with subpoena power, and the governor’s office said he will fully cooperate, and we certainly support that going forward.”
Cuomo is one of the most prominent Democratic governors in the nation, particularly after the media coverage of his press conferences during the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year when New York was one of the hardest-hit areas of the country. Cuomo, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, is also known as a close Biden ally and was even reported to be under consideration for attorney general during the presidential transition.
On Feb. 24, Lindsey Boylan, a former aide to Cuomo, published a lengthy essay claiming she’d had multiple uncomfortable interactions with the governor during her years working for him, including an instance when, she claimed, he “kissed” her out of the blue. Three days after Boylan’s essay was published, a second former aide, Charlotte Bennett, accused the governor of repeatedly making inappropriate sexual comments to her. Cuomo denied both accusations and said he was eager to have an independent review.
New York state Attorney General Letitia James began an investigation Monday after pushing back on requests from Cuomo to have judges he had ties to involved in the probe. Hours after James formally started investigating the matter, a third woman, Anna Ruch, came forward and claimed Cuomo had touched her and tried to kiss her at a wedding in 2019 even after she rejected his advances.
Ruch has worked as a staffer on the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Cuomo released a statement about her claims, saying his actions may “have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”
The third accusation led to mounting calls for Cuomo to resign. At the press briefing on Tuesday, Psaki refused to weigh in on whether the governor should step down and stressed that Biden supports James’s investigation.
“The president believes, as I’ve noted, that every woman who comes forward deserves to be heard and treated with respect,” Psaki said. “There is an investigation — an independent investigation — that’s being overseen by the attorney general which has subpoena power, and we certainly support that moving forward.”
Psaki declined to comment on whether Biden had spoken with Cuomo or Ruch about the allegations. The press secretary said she believed that Ruch was an “organizer” for Biden in Florida during last year’s campaign and that she was unsure whether Ruch knew the president at all.
“I’m sure she has a number of people she remains in touch with from the campaign,” Psaki said.
The allegations against Cuomo followed a previous controversy over his decision to send COVID-positive patients from hospitals to nursing homes, and then allegations that he hid data on nursing home patient deaths. The criticism comes after he was widely praised for his handling of the pandemic, particularly since his measured public appearances offered a stark contrast to then-President Donald Trump’s statements minimizing the dangers of the virus. Biden had previously described Cuomo’s response to the pandemic as the “gold standard.” Psaki was asked about those remarks in an appearance on ABC News on Sunday. She said she did not want to “give new labels or names from the president.”
“We’re going to continue to work with a range of governors including, of course, Gov. Cuomo, because we think the people of New York, the people of states across the country, need assistance not just to get through the pandemic but to get through this difficult economic time, and that’s where our focus remains,” Psaki said during that broadcast.
Cuomo is currently chairman of the bipartisan National Governors Association. In that capacity, he and other governors met with Biden to discuss the pandemic on Feb. 12. One of Cuomo’s top aides, Melissa DeRosa, was also advising Biden’s COVID team during the transition.
At her briefing, Psaki declined to weigh in on whether Biden wants Cuomo to remain the association’s chair and said that was “not a decision for the White House.” Asked about DeRosa, she indicated that the Biden administration plans to continue to speak and work with officials from the Cuomo administration to address the pandemic.
New York “continues to be one of the hardest-hit states by the COVID pandemic,” Psaki said. “It is one of the hardest-hit states by the resulting economic downturn, and of course we’re going to continue to work with officials in that state to help the people of New York, help get the pandemic under control and help get people back to work.”