ALBANY, N.Y. - A woman whose allegations of sexual misconduct preceded the resignation of state Attorney General Tish James' top aide called the office's handling of her complaint "appalling."
Sofia Quintanar told The New York Times on Wednesday that her claim that James' former chief of staff Ibrahim Khan kissed her inappropriately against her will last year was substantiated by investigators, but Khan was still allowed to resign with his reputation intact. She accused the office of withholding information on the events and investigation in order to protect Khan, rather than the women who came forward.
"I find it just appalling to see how the office handled this publicly," she said in her first public interview.
The growing questions over James' handling of the case come after she was reelected to a second term Nov. 8 and after her damning report in August 2021 over sexual harassment complaints against then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his office's handling of them led to his resignation.
James' office confirmed Dec. 2 that Khan resigned following an investigation into a handful of sexual harassment allegations against him. The office did not detail the situation until days later, saying only "an independent, impartial investigation was conducted, and the employee has since resigned."
Quintanar, who worked for James as a deputy press secretary until 2021, said that she ran into Khan at a fundraiser in November of that year, after she had left the office. Quintanar told the Times that "Khan pulled her close and 'stuck his tongue down my throat'" when the two were alone outside the venue. She said she had told a small handful of people, and another woman began crying as she confirmed similar experiences with Khan.
The Sexual Harassment Working Group, a coalition of former legislative staffers that has successfully pushed for more protections for survivors of harassment, is also criticizing the handling of the events. The group applauded the Attorney General's Office's actions toward a prompt investigation, but said the "lack of initial transparency" since the news of Khan's resignation broke "is a failure of communication."
"We expect the Attorney General's office to handle complaints appropriately and communicate effectively about the latest investigation," the group said in a Tuesday statement. "Once an investigation is concluded, the public is owed a full accounting of the terms and timeline of events and the findings, save for personal details to protect the victims' privacy and dignity. "
James released her first official comment on Khan on Wednesday soon before the Times story posted online. She thanked the women who came forward and said, "I want to assure them that they were heard and that I believe them."
She also defended the actions her office took.
"My office treated this matter as aggressively as every other matter that has come before our office," she said. "Within 24 hours, our office took disciplinary action and put Ibrahim Khan under restrictions, and within 72 hours, we engaged an outside law firm that began an impartial and exhaustive review of the allegations. Mr. Khan resigned while the process was still ongoing. When the process concluded, my office spoke with each individual and informed them that allegations were substantiated. I am confident in the steps that were taken to swiftly review the allegations and in the integrity of the investigation."
On Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul expressed confidence in the steps James took when asked about the ethics of what kind of details she shared with the public and when.
"I'm not going to conjecture on what's on people's minds and what their motivations are," she told reporters after an unrelated event.
"I'm simply saying that there's a lot… the situation is not very clear, but it seems to me - based on public reports, which is all I know - is that steps were taken to investigate this and pursue this and the person is no longer in the position they were once in."
Shannon Young contributed to this report.