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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo hires criminal defense attorney for nursing home deaths probe

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has hired criminal defense lawyer Elkan Abramowitz to represent him and his aides in a probe into alleged underreporting of COVID nursing home deaths. The Wall Street Journal reporter Jimmy Vielkind joins CBSN's "Red & Blue" anchor Elaine Quijano with more on how the Cuomo administration is handling the fallout and the latest on the impending investigations into nursing home deaths and allegations of sexual misconduct.

Video Transcript

- Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has reportedly hired a criminal defense lawyer. He's facing new allegations of sexual harassment, as well as a Justice Department inquiry into alleged under counting of COVID-19 nursing home deaths in the state. According to the Wall Street Journal, former Federal prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney, Elkan Abramowitz will represent Governor Cuomo and his aides in the nursing home probe, but not for the harassment allegations. In the past week, two former staffers have come forward accusing the governor of using language that made them uncomfortable and which they believed was sexual in nature.

Last week former State Economic Development official Lindsey Boylan published an essay citing several interactions that took place from 2016 to 2018. She has accused the governor of kissing her without her consent. Then, days later, former executive assistant and health policy advisor, Charlotte Bennett, accused Mr Cuomo of harassing her late last spring. The governor denies inappropriately touching or propositioning anyone. In a statement he admitted his behavior quote, may have been insensitive or too personal, adding that attempts at being playful may have been misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation. He says his office will cooperate with an investigation by New York's Attorney General.

Jimmy Vielkind covers New York politics and government for the Wall Street Journal. He broke that story about the governor's defense attorney, and joins me now from Albany. Welcome Jimmy. Thanks very much for being with us. So what else can you tell us about the governor's hiring of Abramowitz?

JIMMY VIELKIND: Well this is actually the second time Governor Cuomo has turned to Mr. Abramowitz, a former Federal prosecutor. Originally, he retained Abramowitz in 2014 for an inquiry into how he steered an anti-corruption commission. It was called the Moreland Commission. That eventually-- that review was conducted by prosecutors from the Southern District of New York in Manhattan. And it ended with US Attorney Preet Bharara, who formerly held that office, saying that there was not enough evidence to support filing a Federal crime or filing Federal criminal charges.

We understand that Abramowitz is dealing with three inquiries into nursing homes. The first came in August from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. The second in October from its Civil Division. And the most recent probe request came in February for prosecutors based in Brooklyn. Their inquiry came after Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Governor Cuomo, said that the state paused on releasing nursing home records that had long been sought by lawmakers, journalists, and loved ones of those who died, because they feared that the information would be politicized by the Trump administration.

Now Governor Cuomo says he's cooperating fully with all of the inquiries.

- All right. So Jimmy, on the other issue that we mentioned, what do we know about when and where these alleged sexual harassment incidents took place?

JIMMY VIELKIND: Well the first woman to come forward, Lindsey Boylan, said that she had numerous encounters with the governor in which he remarked about her appearance. She said that in October of 2017, during a trip on the state plane, Governor Cuomo said, let's play strip poker. At the time, there were press aides and economic development officials with both Boylan and Cuomo on the aircraft. In a joint statement, those other passengers said that they never heard that comment. Boylan also says that in 2018 at some point, Governor Cuomo kissed her on her lips while she left a meeting at his offices in Manhattan. A spokeswoman for the governor has denied these allegations, though the governor has said he is withholding additional comment until Attorney General James' probe concludes.

Over the weekend we heard from Charlotte Bennett. She's 25 and worked for Governor Cuomo as an analyst, later working in health policy. She says that in June of this year, she had an encounter with the governor in his Albany office, during which she says the governor asked inappropriate questions about her sex life, asked her opinion about relationships between people of disparate age groups, and also asked when was the last time she had really gotten a good hug. Ms. Bennett says that she felt that this was a come-on and that it was inappropriate. She complained to the governor's chief of staff. Governor Cuomo acknowledged on Sunday that some of the things he said may have been misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation. And to the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry, he said, and I quote.

Earlier this afternoon, Ms. Bennett essentially rejected that apology. She said, quote, the governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior, end quote. The governor also resisted initial calls for Attorney General James to lead this investigation, leading Ms. Bennett to say, quote, these are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood. They're the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice.

- All right. I'm afraid we're out of time. Jimmy Vielkind of the Wall Street Journal. Jimmy, thank you so much for joining us.

JIMMY VIELKIND: Thank you so much for having me.