Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the New York Attorney General’s Office to suspend its investigation into whether Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. mishandled 2015 allegations of sexual misconduct against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The halt is supposed to be temporary, but a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News said the attorney general’s investigation could interfere with the current criminal case against Weinstein. That case could drag through the courts for months or even years, suggesting the suspension could be extended indefinitely.
“Upon receiving a referral from the Governor, this spring the Attorney General’s Office commenced an inquiry into the handling of recent sexual assault investigations conducted by the Manhattan DA and the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. “This summer, pursuant to the Governor’s office, we temporarily suspended our inquiry to avoid any interference with the District Attorney’s ongoing prosecution of Harvey Weinstein. We remain committed to conducting a comprehensive, fair, and independent review.”
On June 26, Cuomo’s office sent Attorney General Barbara Underwood a letter calling for a six-month pause in the investigation so that it would not hamper Vance’s prosecution of Weinstein on sexual assault charges stemming from allegations that came to light in 2017 in the New York Times and the New Yorker. Coming two years after the initial accusations, the 2017 claims led victim advocates to criticize Vance for not prosecuting Weinstein earlier and led Cuomo to announce the investigation into the district attorney’s actions.
Underwood became attorney general in May, replacing Eric Schneiderman, who resigned following reports of abusive behavior toward women.
BuzzFeed News first learned of the investigation’s suspension from Marissa Hoechstetter, a sexual assault victim who was interviewed by the attorney general’s office as part of its probe, which has also touched on Vance’s handling of other cases. In recent weeks, Hoechstetter spoke with officials from the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office who informed her that the investigation into Vance was on hold.
In a statement Tuesday, the governor's office confirmed the investigation was suspended. "As we said when the Governor directed the Attorney General to investigate the Manhattan DA's Office, it should not interfere with the DA's ongoing criminal case. Given the recent indictment and prosecution of Harvey Weinstein by the District Attorney, the Attorney General's investigation has been postponed for six months," Dani Lever, Cuomo's press secretary, told BuzzFeed News.
Confirmation of the suspension came a day before Cuomo was set to debate his challenger in the Sept. 13 gubernatorial primary, Cynthia Nixon. While the governor had publicly announced in March that he was calling on the attorney general to investigate Vance, his office had kept under wraps the fact that he suspended it three months later.
Cuomo instructed the attorney general’s office to investigate Vance after the Manhattan DA’s Office failed to pursue criminal charges against Weinstein in 2015 despite audio evidence supporting Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez’s accusations that he’d groped her.
Six days before Cuomo's office sent the June letter directing the attorney general to suspend its investigation, the law firm that was representing Weinstein in 2015 donated $25,000 to the governor's campaign. The donation, first reported by Capital & Main and Sludge on Wednesday, came from the New York firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, according to campaign donation records. It was dated June 20, 2018.
Attorney David Boies, the partner in the firm who oversaw Weinstein's defense, has been near the center of the investigation into Vance's handling of the Weinstein case from the start. Months after Vance dropped the 2015 case against his then-client, Boies donated $10,000 to the Manhattan DA's campaign fund, a contribution that fueled the calls for an investigation into Vance.
The Capital & Main and Sludge report said the suspension could help block scrutiny of Boies' 2015 donation to Vance and the decision not to charge Weinstein at that time. It also noted that Boies and his firm have donated more than $245,000 to Cuomo's campaigns since 2009.
While the Weinstein case is at the center of the state investigation into Vance, several other sexual assault cases overseen by his office are also under new scrutiny, including his failure to pursue sexual assault charges against high-profile men, such as International Monetary Fund Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and well-known lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, who were represented by lawyers who’d donated to Vance’s campaign. In another case, Robert Hadden, a gynecologist accused of sexually abusing 19 women, including Hoechstetter, received a plea deal for no jail time. Hadden’s defense lawyer was a former colleague of Vance’s who’d also donated to his campaign.
The attorney general’s office said the suspension of the investigation would have no effect on its ongoing civil rights lawsuit against Weinstein stemming from sexual misconduct allegations by employees of Weinstein’s company.
This story has been updated to include campaign donations from a former Weinstein lawyer.
This story has been updated to include comment from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.
Robert Hadden received no jail time in his plea deal. An earlier version of this post said he had.
Albert Samaha is Inequality Editor at BuzzFeed News and author of two books, "Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes" and "Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City." He is based in New York.
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