Joe Biden calls for investigation after second woman accuses New York governor Cuomo of sexual misconduct

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo - Getty
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo - Getty

A second ex-employee of powerful New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo has accused him of sexual harassment, charges the governor denied on Saturday.

This time the allegations came from 25-year-old former health adviser Charlotte Bennett, who told The New York Times that the governor sexually harassed her in the spring of 2020.

According to Ms Bennett, the 63-year-old politician said in June that he was open to dating women in their 20s, and asked her if she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, the Times reported.

While Mr Cuomo never tried to touch her, "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared," Ms Bennett told the paper.

Ms Bennett said that she spoke to Mr Cuomo's chief of staff and legal counsel after the alleged incident, who transferred her to another post in another building. Ms Bennett was happy with the new job and decided not to insist on an investigation.

Joe Biden, the US president, supports an independent investigation into the allegations against Mr Cuomo, said his press secretary, Jen Psaki, after New York mayor Bill de Blasio called for one.

“There should be an independent review looking into these allegations, and that’s certainly something he supports and we believe should move forward as quickly as possible,” Ms. Psaki said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Mr Cuomo became a national star last spring with his straight-talking yet empathetic coronavirus briefings that contrasted sharply with then-president Donald Trump's dismissive approach to the pandemic.

But the harassment allegations come as he faces a growing storm over his handling of the coronavirus in nursing homes in his state.

In a statement Saturday, Mr Cuomo said he "never made advances toward Ms Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate."

He said he wanted instead to support Ms Bennett, who had told him that she was a sexual assault survivor.

Mr Cuomo, who appears to have agreed to allow New York's Attorney General Leticia James order an independent inquiry, apologised for being "insensitive or too personal."

New York's governor said he never intended to offend, but conceded that his actions could have been misinterpreted as flirtation.

"At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes good-natured are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way," he said.

"I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offence and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business."

The governor, whose third term expires at the end of 2022, called for "a full and thorough outside review" of these charges, led by a former federal judge.

"I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgments," he added.

This is the second time in a week that the Democratic governor, who has led New York state for 10 years, has been accused of sexual harassment.

On Wednesday, another ex-adviser, Lindsey Boylan, said in a blog that he had harassed her when she was working for his administration, from 2015 to 2018.

Ms Boylan, 36, alleged that the governor had given her an unsolicited kiss on the lips, suggested that she play strip poker with him and went "out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs".

"For those wondering what it's like to work for the Cuomo admin, read @LindseyBoylan's story," Ms Bennett wrote in a re-tweet of Ms Boylan's post.

Mr Cuomo's office said in a statement that Ms Boylan's "claims of inappropriate behaviour are quite simply false".