Hakeem Jeffries Concerned About 'Very Serious Allegations' Against Ally Andrew Cuomo

U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, who has long been an ally of embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was never aware of any previous rumblings or allegations of Cuomo harassing women before three recently came forward with such claims.

"I was in Albany for six years, and spent two years with Andrew Cuomo as governor," Jeffries, a New York Democrat who served in the State Legislature before he was elected to Congress in 2012, told reporters Tuesday. "These aren't allegations that I was familiar with, my time in Albany."

Three women have all come forward to claim that Cuomo made unwanted advances toward them—two state government employees, and an aide on President Joe Biden's presidential campaign. The governor has denied any intentional wrongdoing, and the New York attorney general has launched an independent investigation into the allegations.

"These are very serious allegations and they require a very serious investigation," said Jeffries, a Brooklyn political powerbroker who has quickly risen through the ranks of Congress and is currently chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "There obviously is some corroboration, it appears, to the allegations, and I believe that the people who have come forward should be treated with dignity and respect."

There's no reason to suspect the allegations are politically motivated, he added.

"Everybody's monitoring the situation closely," Jeffries said.

Cuomo, who has mostly laid low since allegations surfaced last week, is running for reelection next year. Jeffries, who backed Cuomo's reelection bid in 2018 and served on his transition team four years earlier, said he doesn't plan to mount an election challenge. During their time together in Albany, the two worked together on priority legislation, and they've recently teamed up to promote coronavirus response efforts, including vaccinations for New Yorkers.

Cuomo said in a statement Sunday that he would "tease people in what I think is a good-natured way."

"I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended," he said.

But the news has thrust some Democrats—particularly those who were outspoken critics of former President Donald Trump and often noted harassment allegations against him and his allies—into uncomfortable positions.

During the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and then-Senator, now Vice President, Kamala Harris both ran on a commitment to believing women who claimed they were harassed amid the #MeToo movement.

Gillibrand, who has told reporters she supports an independent investigation, dodged a question from reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday after the third accuser came forward and wouldn't say whether she thinks Cuomo should resign.

Harris, who hammered Trump Supreme Court nominee, now Justice, Brett Kavanaugh about harassment allegations during his confirmation hearing, hasn't directly addressed the claims against Cuomo. Neither has Biden, but White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that both are supportive of the investigation into the allegations against Cuomo.

Psaki said she's not sure whether Biden or Harris personally knew the campaign staffer or whether any higher-level members of the campaign team have been in touch with her since she came forward.

"The President believes that every woman who comes forward deserves to be heard and treated with respect," she said. "There is an investigation—an independent investigation—that's over being overseen by the attorney general, and we certainly support that moving forward."

NY Capitol
The New York State Capitol building is pictured on March 2 in Albany, New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing calls to resign after three women have come forward accusing him of unwanted advances. Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty