ALBANY, N.Y. — The New York State attorney general has named Joon H. Kim, a former acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Anne L. Clark, an employment discrimination lawyer, to lead the investigation into sexual harassment accusations made against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The selection of the lawyers, who will be armed with subpoena power, clears the way for investigators to begin looking into Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat who has seen his political fortunes hammered in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and other questionable behavior toward young women.
“Joon H. Kim and Anne L. Clark are independent legal experts who have decades of experience conducting investigations and fighting to uphold the rule of law,” Letitia James, the state attorney general, said in a statement on Monday. “There is no question that they both have the knowledge and background necessary to lead this investigation and provide New Yorkers with the answers they deserve.”
The appointment is effective immediately, according to Ms. James’s office.
Mr. Kim, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP who specializes in internal investigations and regulatory enforcement, served as acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan for 10 months, succeeding Preet Bharara after he was forced out of office by President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Kim was also Mr. Bharara’s chief counsel when the U.S. attorney’s office began investigating Mr. Cuomo’s decision in 2014 to disband the Moreland Commission, an anticorruption panel, and the governor’s possible interference with its work. That inquiry concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to prove a federal crime.”
As acting U.S. attorney, Mr. Kim was also involved, before trial, in the prosecution of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide and close friend of Mr. Cuomo who was convicted of federal corruption charges in 2018.
Ms. Clark, a partner at Vladeck, Raskin & Clark, P.C., has experience in employment law issues and has represented plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases in government and in the private sector.
Susan Crumiller, an employment discrimination lawyer familiar with Ms. Clark’s work, described her as a seasoned, detail-oriented litigator.
“I think she is an excellent choice,” said Ms. Crumiller. “She’s very smart, she’s very thorough.”
In a statement, Mr. Bharara praised the selections of Mr. Kim and Ms. Clark, calling Mr. Kim “a brilliant lawyer, who can be trusted to be fair, fearless and meticulous in any sensitive investigation.”
“He and Anne Clark will follow the facts wherever they lead,” Mr. Bharara said.
Ms. James, a Democrat, hired outside lawyers to conduct the investigation into Mr. Cuomo to avoid any appearance that the investigation would be politically motivated. The lawyers will be required to report weekly to Ms. James and publish a public report with their findings, probably months from now.
The inquiry could be broad enough to include not just the on-the-record accusations made by women over the past few weeks, but any other allegations that may surface as the lawyers investigate.
On Sunday, the top Democrat in the State Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, called for Mr. Cuomo’s resignation, signaling a loss of faith among his fellow Democrats in the State Capitol. Just before Senator Stewart-Cousins’s statement, Mr. Cuomo rejected calls for him to step aside, saying “there’s no way” he would do so, citing the investigation to be overseen by Ms. James’s office.
“Let the attorney general do her job,” Mr. Cuomo said. “She’s very good, she’s very competent, and that will be due process and then we’ll have the facts.”
The appointment of the two investigators came just as Mr. Cuomo’s administration announced the departure of his legal counsel, Kumiki Gibson, one of several upper-level staffers who have left in recent weeks, including Gareth Rhodes, a well-regarded member of the coronavirus task force.
Beth Garvey, a special counsel who has been at the center of Mr. Cuomo’s response to the sexual harassment allegations, was named as acting counsel.
Five women have come forward since late February with allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior against Mr. Cuomo.
The investigation announced by Ms. James, a Democrat, was sparked by a report in The New York Times on Feb. 27 concerning Mr. Cuomo, 63, and a 25-year-old woman, Charlotte Bennett, who had worked in the governor’s office as an executive assistant and a senior scheduler.
In a series of interviews with The Times, Ms. Bennett said that Mr. Cuomo had asked her invasive personal questions last spring about her sex life and life as a survivor of sexual assault, including whether she had slept with older men and whether she thought age made a difference in relationships. Mr. Cuomo also complained of being lonely and wanting a girlfriend in Albany, Ms. Bennett said, statements she took as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.
Mr. Cuomo, who separated from his longtime girlfriend, the celebrity chef Sandra Lee, in 2019, denied making advances on Ms. Bennett, suggesting that some of his statements may have been misconstrued.
“I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable,” Mr. Cuomo said in an emotional news conference on Wednesday. “I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do.”
On Monday, Ms. Bennett’s lawyer, Debra Katz, said that selection of Mr. Kim and Ms. Clark demonstrated that Ms. James “is taking this matter very seriously.”
“We are encouraged by the experience and background of the attorneys who will be investigating Charlotte’s claims and expect the investigation will extend to the claims of the other women who we know to be out there,” said Ms. Katz, adding that she hoped the investigation would also focus “on the culture of secrecy, abuse and fear” that Mr. Cuomo “fostered among his staff.”
On Sunday, Mr. Cuomo struck a defiant tone, saying he would continue to work, adding that he felt politics was playing a role in the calls for his resignation.
“I was elected by the people of the state, I wasn’t elected by politicians,” he said. “I’m not going to resign.”
The lawyers appointed by Ms. James are likely to have the authority to look not only at Mr. Cuomo’s actions but also at the response of the state to complaints from Ms. Bennett and others.
Shortly after her encounter with the governor, Ms. Bennett gave her account of his actions last June to the governor’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, and was quickly transferred to another job, with an office at a distance from Mr. Cuomo. Ms. Bennett also told a special counsel to the governor, Judith Mogul, about her experiences as well as her sense that the governor was grooming her for sex, before deciding she did not want to pursue an investigation.
In a statement on Friday, Ms. Mogul said she had “acted consistent with the information provided, the requirements of the law, and Charlotte’s wishes.”
Last week, Ms. James ordered Ms. Mogul and others in the Cuomo administration to safeguard any records related to the pending investigation. Her office also insists that her investigation, led by Mr. Kim and Ms. Clark, will continue, regardless of whether or not Mr. Cuomo resigns.
In statements provided by the attorney general’s office, both lawyers suggested the allegations against the governor were serious.
“The people of New York deserve an exhaustive and independent investigation into these allegations,” Ms. Clark said. “And I am committed to seeing it through.”
Benjamin Weiser contributed reporting from New York.