The New York State attorney general will review the Manhattan district attorney’s handling of a 2015 sexual abuse case involving disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Monday evening.
The announcement follows an open letter from Time’s Up, the female-led organization formed in the aftermath of the Weinstein scandal, to “open an investigation” of District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and his office “to determine the facts related to the decision not to prosecute Harvey Weinstein for sexual abuse crimes against one of his accusers, Ambra Battilana.”
Back in October, The New Yorker released an audio recording of Weinstein speaking with young model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez as part of a 2015 sting operation. The NYPD set up the sting after Gutierrez told authorities that Weinstein groped her the day before.
In the recording, Weinstein makes potentially incriminating comments to Gutierrez, but Weinstein was not arrested or charged with a crime at the time.
After the tape’s release, the New York Police Department and the Manhattan DA’s office traded public finger-pointing.
Vance has also faced criticism for accepting a $10,000 donation from David Boies, an attorney who has represented Weinstein, in August 2015, according to campaign financial disclosure forms from the New York State Board of Elections.
The Time’s Up open letter said the possibility that Vance was “improperly influenced” was “particularly disturbing.”
“An independent investigation into the full decision-making process in this case, including a full review of the correspondence within the office and with any representatives for Mr. Weinstein, must be undertaken immediately to ensure that prosecutorial integrity was maintained and to restore faith in the DA’s office,” the letter said.
Danny Frost, a spokesman for the Manhattan DA’s office, released a statement on Monday in response.
“The idea that our Office would shrink from the challenge of prosecuting a powerful man is belied by our daily work and unparalleled record of success on behalf of sexual assault survivors,” the statement read.
Frost added that they “welcome the engagement that powerful advocates like Time’s Up have brought to this work.”
“Our investigation of Mr. Weinstein is active and ongoing. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment further,” the statement concluded.
The DA’s investigation will be completed in approximately 45 days, and only then will the attorney general begin a review of the 2015 case, Cuomo’s statement said, adding that further action may be taken based on the findings.
“It is critical not only that these cases are given the utmost attention but also that there is public confidence in the handling of these cases,” Cuomo said.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a separate civil rights lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein, Robert Weinstein and the Weinstein companies at large for “egregious violations of New York’s civil rights, human rights, and business laws” earlier this year, his office said in a statement.
“We are deeply familiar with Harvey Weinstein’s years of egregious sexual abuse, and recently filed a civil rights lawsuit against him alleging severe and persistent abuse of employees at the Weinstein Company,” the statement said. “We are committed to pursuing a full, fair, and independent review of this matter.”
Vance has defended his decision not to prosecute Weinstein in the past, and he and his team believe the investigation will only further show that they did nothing wrong in this case.
“We are confident that any review will confirm that our office has pursued its investigation without fear or favor, based on the merits alone,” Frost, the spokesman for the DA’s office, said in a statement.
“At the end of the day, we operate in the courtroom of the law, not the courtroom of public opinion,” Vance said in October.
Later Monday, Vance and the NYPD released a joint statement reiterating their shared commitment to investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases.
“We will continue working collaboratively and professionally to deliver justice to victims of crime in Manhattan,” the statement read in part. “From time to time we’ll have our disagreements, but we will never allow them to undermine this shared endeavor.”
To date, dozens of women have accused Weinstein of abuse, following reports in the New York Times and the New Yorker last year about his treatment of women, including some of those with whom he’s worked. Weinstein has been accused of rape, assault and other forms of sexual misconduct.
Weinstein sought treatment after the allegations were made public and through a representative has repeatedly denied all allegations of “non-consensual sex.”
“There will only be real consequences for abusive behavior when our public officials, sworn to uphold the law, care as much about the rights of the victim as concerns for the accused,” the letter added.