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Cuomo Accusers Are Subpoenaed as State Inquiry Enters a Critical Phase

ALBANY, N.Y. — Four women who have accused Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of sexual harassment have received subpoenas to testify under oath, the latest indication that the state attorney general’s investigation into Mr. Cuomo’s behavior has entered a critical phase.

The issuing of the subpoenas, which was expected at some point in the inquiry, underscores the investigation’s progress beyond an initial fact-finding phase, during which lawyers interviewed multiple women at length, but not under oath.

The attorney general, Letitia James, has not set a deadline for releasing the findings of her office’s inquiry, which began in early March, but it will almost certainly be completed by summer’s end, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

In the past few months, outside lawyers hired by Ms. James have requested troves of state records and have held hourslong preliminary interviews with several of the women now being asked to testify under oath. Joon H. Kim, a former federal prosecutor, and Anne L. Clark, a prominent employment lawyer, who are overseeing the inquiry, have led the interviews.

Ms. Clark has been delving into the specifics of the sexual harassment accusations. She has collected vast documentation of the claims, including text messages, emails and photographs that Mr. Cuomo’s accusers say support their allegations, according to two people who were present at interviews with the women and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

Mr. Kim, the two people said, is examining closely whether Mr. Cuomo or his aides broke any laws, destroyed documents or other evidence or sought to retaliate against the governor’s accusers or interfere with the investigation in any way. The investigators are also looking into whether Mr. Cuomo and members of his staff followed the appropriate processes for dealing with sexual harassment, the two people said.

The lawyers have cast a wide net, issuing subpoenas to executive chamber staff members that seek emails, documents and other materials that, in some cases, date as far back as 2013, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to the governor who says Mr. Cuomo, 63, made sexual advances when they were alone in his Albany office, is expected to provide testimony under oath in the next two weeks, her lawyer, Debra Katz, said.

Ms. Bennett, whose allegations against Mr. Cuomo were the impetus for the attorney general’s inquiry, sat with investigators for more than four hours of preliminary interviews in March, Ms. Katz said. Ms. Bennett, 25, has also provided more than “120 pages of contemporaneous records” and has identified more than two dozen possible eyewitnesses, Ms. Katz said.

A female staff member who accused Mr. Cuomo of groping her in the Executive Mansion in Albany has also been subpoenaed, her lawyer told The New York Times. (The woman has not been publicly identified.)

Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to accuse Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment, also received a subpoena, her lawyer said. Ana Liss, a former administration official who accused Mr. Cuomo of making her feel uncomfortable, said she had also gotten a subpoena.

The issuing of the subpoenas comes as Republicans and, privately, some Democrats in the State Assembly criticize an impeachment investigation by a State Assembly committee that is examining the sexual harassment allegations, among other issues.

The investigation by the Assembly, which is controlled by Mr. Cuomo’s fellow Democrats, began after Ms. James opened her inquiry. It has drawn criticism for the pace at which it is moving, with some lawmakers describing it as an attempt to buy the governor time as he faces calls for his resignation.

Mr. Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing, and his denials have become more strident with each passing week.

On Thursday, he said that making someone “feel uncomfortable” was not harassment, a statement that would appear to be at odds with a law he signed in 2019. That law says sexual harassment consists of unwanted advances or sexually explicit remarks that are “offensive or objectionable to the recipient” or “cause the recipient discomfort or humiliation.”

“If I just made you feel uncomfortable, that is not harassment, that is feeling uncomfortable,” Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, said. “I never said anything I believed was inappropriate. I never meant to make you feel that way.”

The Assembly inquiry is being led by the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, specifically by Martine Beamon and Greg D. Andres, two former federal prosecutors, and by Angela Burgess, an expert in white-collar defense and compliance.

The lawyers, who report to the Assembly’s judiciary committee, have briefed lawmakers behind closed doors twice in two months. Many of the women who have accused Mr. Cuomo of harassment were first contacted by the lawyers late last month and no subpoenas of any kind have been issued in connection with the inquiry, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity and was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Will Barclay, the Assembly’s Republican leader, said it was unclear what progress had been made in the investigation and he suggested that it could be “used as a stall tactic.”

“We are getting closer to a point where the committee on judiciary’s responsibilities will be rendered obsolete by investigations being carried out by the state attorney general and multiple federal agencies,” said Mr. Barclay, referring to federal inquiries into Mr. Cuomo’s handling of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.

One issue that may be complicating the Assembly investigation is that the women who have accused Mr. Cuomo of acting inappropriately have already been interviewed as part of the attorney general’s inquiry.

Some lawyers might not want their clients to be interviewed by two separate investigative bodies, in case there are slight discrepancies in their testimonies that could undermine their accounts, even if they are truthful.

“Not everybody jumps when you ask them for information or you ask for their interview,” said Assemblyman Michael Montesano, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican. “This is something that people watching us from the outside have to understand.”

Some of Mr. Cuomo’s accusers have expressed reluctance to cooperate with the Assembly investigation, either because they feel the inquiry may be politicized or because they do not want to relive the trauma of telling their stories twice.

Ms. Katz, the lawyer for Ms. Bennett, wrote a letter to the Assembly lawyers in April saying she was concerned about her client sitting for another interview, calling it “needlessly exhausting,” with the potential to cause “lasting emotional damage.”

“Particularly in light of the potential impact of another investigative interview on Ms. Bennett’s well-being, we cannot in good faith advise her to participate in such an investigation,” Ms. Katz wrote in the letter, a copy of which The Times obtained.

Ms. Katz, who urged the Assembly lawyers to simply rely on the findings of Ms. James’s inquiry, said she had not received a response to her letter.

Ms. Boylan had said she would not cooperate with the Assembly investigation, calling it a “sham” that lacked transparency. On Friday, however, her lawyer, Jill Basinger, said that Ms. Boylan was “cooperating fully” with both investigations.

At least one woman, the aide who said that Mr. Cuomo groped her at the Executive Mansion, has been interviewed by the Assembly lawyers, her lawyer said.

Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine, a Democrat and the Judiciary Committee chairman, defended the investigation. He said he was “extraordinarily pleased with the work and the progress of our independent investigators.”

“This is an intensely complicated investigation and it is not some sort of an athletic event where there is an end time,” Mr. Lavine said.

Other people noted that the Assembly’s inquiry was bound to take longer than the attorney general’s because it was broader in scope. In addition to looking into whether the governor and his staff covered up the extent of nursing home deaths during the pandemic, the lower chamber’s lawyers are examining whether Mr. Cuomo used state resources to write his pandemic memoir, among other allegations.

“I understand that it’s frustrating to a lot of people, including my leadership, because everything we do is on a confidential basis,” Mr. Montesano, the Republican lawmaker, said. “But when you look at an investigation of this scope, of this magnitude, it’s not just one issue that is being investigated.”

Mr. Montesano said the committee’s members were expected to be briefed by the lawyers again later this month, potentially in person, instead of via Zoom, in order to prevent leaks.

The attorney general’s team has also been issuing subpoenas asking for information about the actions of a former aide to Mr. Cuomo, Larry Schwartz.

Mr. Schwartz, who served as the state’s vaccine czar until recently, spoke with at least two county executives after the allegations against Mr. Cuomo first arose in late February, asking the officials whether they still supported the governor while also discussing immunization plans.

Jesse McKinley and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

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