Cuomo’s aides receive subpoenas in sexual harassment investigation

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The New York State Attorney General’s Office has subpoenaed dozens of Cuomo administration officials, including his senior aide, asking them to produce documents as part of an investigation into harassment charges sexual against the governor, according to people familiar with the matter.

Melissa DeRosa, whose title is secretary to the governor and who has been at the center of the state’s pandemic response, is among those responsible to receive a subpoena earlier this month, people said. Attorney General investigators also interviewed women accusing Gov. Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate behavior about their interactions with Ms DeRosa, the women and their lawyers said.

Ana Liss, a former aide to Mr Cuomo who accused the Democratic governor of misconduct, said during an interview with investigators she was asked about Ms DeRosa’s behavior in the workplace.

Investigators asked how Ms DeRosa interacted with her, said Ms Liss, who worked at the state capitol in 2014. “They were trying to find out if I was being targeted by Melissa,” Ms Liss said.

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She told investigators she didn’t have much of a relationship with Ms DeRosa, who was Mr Cuomo’s director of communications at the time.

Paul Fishman, an attorney representing Mr. Cuomo’s administration, said: “No one should be surprised that the Attorney General’s office issues requests for documents and interviews witnesses, many of whom work for the governor. all investigations, and it’s extremely premature. to speculate on what that means. Good, thorough and fair investigations take time. “

An attorney for Ms DeRosa referred the Wall Street Journal to Mr Fishman for comment.

Three former helpers and two current helpers have accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior in the workplace. The governor denied touching anyone inappropriately and apologized if their behavior made anyone uncomfortable.

Andrew Cuomo's accusers include, left to right, Lindsey Boylan, Charlotte Bennett and Anna Ruch.
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Andrew Cuomo’s accusers include, from left to right, Lindsey Boylan, Charlotte Bennett and Anna Ruch.

The sexual harassment investigation is overseen by New York Attorney General Letitia James. Her office did not charge Ms. DeRosa with any wrongdoing. A spokeswoman for Ms James’ office declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James is seen on August 6, 2020 (Associated Press)

New York State Attorney General Letitia James is seen on August 6, 2020 (Associated Press)

Ms. DeRosa has been involved in state politics for almost 20 years. She was Deputy Chief of Staff to then Attorney General Eric Schneiderman before joining Mr. Cuomo’s staff in 2013. She held the most senior position in state government in 2017, overseeing the House executive of the governor and other state agencies.

During the pandemic, she helped carry out the state’s response, including actions involving nursing homes. State nursing home policies and the delay in releasing a full tally of nursing home deaths from Covid-19 are now the subject of a separate federal investigation.

State officials said the nursing home policy was designed to preserve the capacity of the hospital and followed federal guidelines at the time. They said the data was released when verified for accuracy.

In a statement, Ms DeRosa said she cares deeply about public service and didn’t get much sleep during the pandemic because she was working long hours.

“The last thing I would do in my day would be to call the family members of the deceased healthcare workers and tell them I’m sorry for their pain, then close the door, lie on the floor and to cry, ”she said in response to questions. for this article. “I am not the one-dimensional person who has been described in the press.”

Ms DeRosa regularly berated officials, lawmakers and reporters in lay phone calls and texts as they walked through the governor, according to people who received the communications.

“I am not the one-dimensional person who has been described in the press.”

– Melissa DeRosa

Melissa DeRosa.  (Getty Images)

Melissa DeRosa. (Getty Images)

Rich Azzopardi, senior advisor to Mr Cuomo, said: “Melissa is exactly the same person backstage that she’s on camera – tough, hard-working, brilliant, meticulously prepared and always fighting to make New Life better. Yorker. “

In December, Lindsey Boylan, a former administration official, became the first woman to accuse Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment. At the time, Ms DeRosa and other governor’s aides and allies contacted former staff to tell them about Ms Boylan, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ms Liss said she received a phone call in December from Mr Azzopardi asking if she had heard Ms Boylan. Ms Liss said she viewed the call as intimidation and had discussed the episode with Ms James’ investigators.

Mr Azzopardi said administration officials made a number of calls after Ms Boylan made her accusations, but they weren’t supposed to intimidate. Mr Cuomo said Ms Boylan’s accusations were false.

Ms DeRosa was part of a close circle of helpers who wrote a letter referring to Ms Boylan’s personal files and called people to ask questions about her, people said, including some who spoke with Ms DeRosa at the time.

The letter was never made public, but administration officials provided the documents to several media outlets, according to people familiar with the matter.

Responding to questions regarding the letter and the release of personnel records, Beth Garvey, acting attorney for the governor, said: “ With few exceptions, as a rule, it is up to a government entity to share records of redacted employment, including in cases where members of the media request such public information and for the purpose of correcting inaccurate or misleading statements. “

Ms Boylan said she had never seen the documents, questioned their authenticity and called their release an effort to smear her.

Ms DeRosa was the most senior official in a Feb. 10 meeting with state lawmakers in which she said their requests for nursing home death data were dismissed due to an investigation by the Department of Justice into the matter. Ms DeRosa said the state was concerned that the disclosure of the information could be politicized by President Donald Trump’s administration, according to a transcript.

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After that meeting, Brooklyn-based federal prosecutors requested information from the state on the deaths in retirement homes as part of an investigation that is also examining how the state granted immunity from prosecution and prosecution. criminal offenses to hospitals and retirement homes on the front line of the coronavirus. epidemic. The federal inquiry is also examining how Ms DeRosa and other advisers to the governor altered a July Health Department report on nursing home deaths, people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Cuomo said he was cooperating with federal and state investigations.

Elkan Abramowitz, an outside lawyer hired by the state to represent the governor’s office in the federal investigation, said in a statement that the administration was honest and precise in responding to Justice Department inquiries regarding the houses of retirement.

Write to Jimmy Vielkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com, Khadeeja Safdar at khadeeja.safdar@wsj.com and Deanna Paul at deanna.paul@wsj.com

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