The threat of potential criminal charges against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo increased on Wednesday, as two New York prosecutors announced that they had opened separate criminal investigations into his conduct toward current and former staffers.
District attorneys in Manhattan and Westchester County each announced in statements that they had requested investigative materials from the state attorney general’s office in connection with open inquiries into the governor’s behavior.
They joined the Albany County prosecutor’s office, which announced its own investigation on Tuesday, shortly after a report released by the attorney general’s office found that Mr. Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women, some of them current and former staff members, including his groping and unwanted touching of employees. A lawyer for the governor on Tuesday called the report “unfair,” “inaccurate” and “utterly biased.”
Asked on Wednesday about the investigations, a spokesman for the governor referred to a statement Mr. Cuomo made Tuesday that he had never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.
The prosecutors’ investigations may heighten the political pressure on the governor to resign, an action that President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats inside and outside New York have urged him to take.
The local district attorney inquiries would look into potential criminal activity taken by the governor in Manhattan, where Mr. Cuomo has an executive office; Westchester, where he has maintained a home for much of his tenure as governor; or the capital, Albany.
The inquiries are no sure sign that criminal charges will be brought against the governor, given the potential reluctance of victims to come forward and the high legal bar it would take to win a conviction.
Experts said that the governor could be charged with forcible touching or sex abuse in the third degree, both misdemeanors.
The grabbing of women’s breasts or buttocks could be charged as forcible touching while intimate contact like hugs and kisses on the forehead, cheek and lips could be charged as sex abuse in the third degree.
Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former chief deputy to Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said in an interview Wednesday that the governor spent a lot of time in the city, adding that Mr. Vance would have jurisdiction to look into any crimes committed in the borough within the statute of limitations.
She noted, too, that Mr. Cuomo, during the pandemic, had used his emergency executive powers to “toll,” or essentially stop the clock, on statutes of limitations. That action could potentially give investigators a broader window within which to look for potential criminal conduct.
Much of the conduct described in the report took place between 2013 and 2020, with some of the potentially criminal actions, such as the groping of an unnamed executive assistant and unwanted touching of an unnamed state trooper, taking place between 2017 and 2020.
“What it requires is someone to come forward,” Ms. Agnifilo said. “It’s not an unusual charge and all it requires is a victim to come forward and make a report.”
Understand the Scandals Challenging Gov. Cuomo’s Leadership
Multiple claims of sexual harassment. Several women, including current and former members of his administration, have accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. He has refused to resign.
Results of an independent investigation. An independent inquiry, overseen by Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, found that Mr. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, including current and former government workers, breaking state and federal laws. The report also found that he retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public.
Nursing home death controversy. The Cuomo administration is also under fire for undercounting the number of nursing-home deaths caused by Covid-19 in the first half of 2020, a scandal that deepened after a Times investigation found that aides rewrote a health department report to hide the real number.
Efforts to obscure the death toll. Interviews and unearthed documents revealed in April that aides repeatedly overruled state health officials in releasing the true nursing home death toll over a span of at least five months. Several senior health officials have resigned in response to the governor’s overall handling of the virus crisis, including the vaccine rollout.
Will Cuomo be impeached? On March 11, the State Assembly announced it would open an impeachment investigation. Democrats in both the State Legislature and in New York’s congressional delegation called on Mr. Cuomo to resign, with some saying he has lost the capacity to govern.
It is unclear whether any victims will do so, though they have been encouraged to by the Albany County prosecutor, David Soares. In an interview with “NBC Nightly News” on Tuesday evening, Mr. Soares said that no accusers had lodged a formal complaint with his office, even as its investigators had sought to make contact with some of them.
Kevin Mintzer, a lawyer who has represented several women in sexual misconduct cases, said that while Mr. Cuomo could clearly be held individually liable in state civil court for his conduct, a criminal charge could be difficult for prosecutors to prove.
“Our criminal laws don’t cover much of what sexual harassment is, at least in the workplace,” he said.
As a practical matter, Mr. Mintzer said, prosecutors would have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, a high legal hurdle.
“It’s a fact that this workplace touching and groping is not usually criminally prosecuted,” Mr. Mintzer said. “Whether or not that’s the way it should be is a separate issue.”
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