NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has retained a prominent white-collar criminal defense lawyer to represent his office in a federal investigation into the state’s misreporting of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents, a spokesman said on Monday.
Cuomo has come under fire in recent weeks over his office’s role in reporting the official count of coronavirus fatalities among patients of nursing and extended-care facilities, as well as for allegations of sexual harassment leveled against him.
Elkan Abramowitz, a former federal prosecutor now working in private practice in New York City, was hired to represent Cuomo’s “executive chamber” – consisting of the governor and his immediate staff – in the U.S. Justice Department inquiry into the COVID-19 nursing home deaths, senior advisor Rich Azzopardi told Reuters in a text message.
Azzopardi earlier told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported Abramowitz’s appointment, that Cuomo had not hired a lawyer in connection with the sexual harassment probe.
Cuomo, one of the nation’s best-known Democraticpoliticians, has been accused by two former aides of engaging in a series of unwanted, sexually suggestive comments, and in one case an unsolicited kiss.
On Sunday, he apologized if any of his remarks or behavior were misinterpreted as flirtatious and said he never tried to make anyone feel uncomfortable. He said he never physically touched anyone.
New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday said she had accepted the governor’s formal referral of the matter to her office, clearing the way for appointment of an outside counsel to conduct an investigation into the accounts of both women – Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett.
Late on Monday, a third woman, Anna Ruch, came forward in an interview published by the New York Times to accuse the governor of inappropriate conduct at a September 2019 wedding reception.
As reported by the Times, Ruch recounted the governor first put his hand on her bare lower back, then when she brushed his hand away, called her “aggressive” and placed his hands on her cheeks and asked her if he could kiss her.
Ruch, according to the Times, said she pulled away and the encounter left her feeling “confused and shocked and embarrassed.” The moment was caught in a cellphone photo Ruch said was taken by a friend and published by the Times with the article.
Reuters was unable to independently verify Ruch’s account. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful. A representative for Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The New York governor’s brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, told viewers late on Monday he could not cover stories surrounding the allegations on the governor due their relation.
“Obviously, I’m aware of what’s going on with my brother,” the CNN host said on Monday. “Obviously, I cannot cover it because he is my brother. Now, of course CNN has to cover it. They have covered it extensively and they will continue to do so.”
The often outspoken governor has stayed mostly out of the public eye since the sexual harassment scandal started gaining traction last week. Cuomo rose to national prominence for his daily televised briefings last spring, when New York was the epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States.
In January, the attorney general’s office issued a report that cast doubt on the Cuomo administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, saying the state health department significantly undercounted the death toll in nursing homes and implemented policies that may have contributed to it.
Before entering private practice, Abramowitz worked as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, where he served as chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Abramowitz represented Cuomo’s office when federal prosecutors investigated the governor for disbanding an anti-corruption agency in 2014. He also represented filmmaker Woody Allen for many years, defending him against abuse allegations.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax and Kanishka Singh; Editing by Dan Grebler and Lincoln Feast.)