The war of words between Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. escalated Wednesday, with a letter from Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, that hammered home the reasons why Cuomo asked the attorney general’s office to look into Vance’s handling of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations in the first place.
David wrote to reject Vance’s argument—which the district attorney stated in a letter sent late Tuesday—that Cuomo overstepped his bounds in pulling his investigation into allegations of violence leveled against Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as state attorney general Monday night.
Cuomo handed the investigation over to Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, naming her as special prosecutor to look into the allegations surrounding Schneiderman.
In his response Wednesday, David took Vance to task for suggesting the Manhattan DA’s Office should be allowed to investigate “private citizen” Schneiderman, since his departure from the office obviated any potential conflict.
Not so, David said, since Cuomo had directed Singas to not only look into claims Schneiderman slapped, choked, intimidated and threatened women he was in relationships with, but also to look at any role members of Schneiderman’s staff played in facilitating any aspect of his behavior.
Since the AG’s Office itself remained tasked with investigating Vance’s own handling of the sexual assault allegations against Weinstein, the potential for conflict very much continues to exist, according to David.
“It is frankly absurd to think that you can investigate an office that is simultaneously investigating your own conduct,” David said. “I would refer you—although as a law enforcement official I expect you are already aware—to the well accepted legal and ethical standards compelling law enforcement officials to avoid even an appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest.”
David then went on to recap what had led to the attorney general’s directive in the first place, stating that the complaints of “credible women’s organizations” had “compelled” Cuomo to order the investigation. David specifically noted a letter from Time’s Up, calling on Cuomo to initiate an independent investigation into the Manhattan district attorney’s decision not to prosecute Weinstein for sexual crimes.
“Your original actions and omissions in the Harvey Weinstein matter caused the distrust of women’s organizations,” David told Vance. “That distrust is of your creation, not ours.”
As to the issue of conflict, David argued it was a matter of “an objective review of the totality of the circumstances, including the interests of victims and their representatives,” that determined whether one exits.
“It is paramount that not only women, but all New Yorkers, believe this matter is being handled fairly, and they have made it clear that you do not instill that confidence in them,” the governor’s counsel said. “The original letter calling for you to be investigated made that clear, and the statement that they issued today reinforces that point.”
David said the governor’s office had been in touch with newly sworn-in Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood, reiterating its request that an investigation into Vance’s office be started posthaste.
A spokesman for Vance’s office said the office was still reviewing the letter, declining to comment further.