Confronted by The Post Wednesday, embattled New York Attorney General Letitia James spoke out for the first time about the sexual harassment scandal engulfing her office.
James denied to a Post reporter that she hid sexual harassment complaints against her chief of staff to win re-election — claiming that she was “protecting the rights” of his accusers.
And the powerful AG — under fire for burying the case despite having led the sexual harassment probe that forced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo from office last year — insisted that concealing her investigation of longtime aide Ibrahim Khan was “by no means” tied to her race for a second term in office.
“We’re protecting the rights of individuals and it’s important to understand this was a private investigation, which is separate and apart from the investigation we did into the former governor — which was a governmental investigation and a lawful investigation pursuant to a referral,” James told The Post outside her Brooklyn brownstone Wednesday.
The Post also asked James why she didn’t tell cops about the allegations against Khan, which reportedly include inappropriate touching and unwanted kissing.
“It was a private investigation and it’s important we protect the privacy of the individuals,” she said.
James’ comments marked the first time she’s spoken publicly about the scandal.
When asked if there was anything she wanted to tell the public about Khan’s alleged conduct and the safety of her employees, James said: “We’re trying to keep it private.”
James, a Democrat, refused to debate Republican challenger Michael Henry in the wake of the allegations against Khan, which her office has said she learned about on Oct. 2. On Tuesday, Henry told The Post that Khan’s resignation, first reported Friday by the New York Times, made clear why James “spent weeks in hiding.”
“Now we all know that she probably feared that somehow the sexual harassment scandal she worked so hard to cover up would come to light,” he said.
“It is disgraceful.”
Veteran Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf agreed this week that the scandal involving Khan “is very damaging to the attorney general because of the time lag.”
“James didn’t debate her opponent before the election, and this could be the reason why,” Sheinkopf noted.
“It’s important to understand we protect victims, we believe victims and we believe women, and we do a thorough investigation and that’s exactly what we did,” James said.
“And it’s important you also understand the difference between this private EEO [equal employment opportunity] investigation and a referral from the governor’s office, which basically included the recommendation we issue a public report.”
James added of the accusers: “The individuals were not part of our office.”
About 30 minutes after The Post published her comments, the AG’s office released an official statement from James in which she said, “First and foremost, I thank the women who came forward, and I want to assure them that they were heard and that I believe them.”
James said she “treated this matter as aggressively as every other matter that has come before our office,” adding: “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 [the] allegations were substantiated,” she said. “I am confident in the steps that were taken to swiftly review the allegations and in the integrity of the investigation.”
James has faced mounting criticism and calls for an investigation into her handling of Khan’s case, with even veteran Democratic operative Sheinkopf saying an independent probe is needed.
“There should be an outside investigation of this case and how it was handled. Otherwise, people will doubt the integrity of the attorney general,” Sheinkopf said Tuesday.