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How The Cuomo Probe Fits Into New York AG Letitia James' Career Of Courtroom Battles

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's take a moment now to focus on one of the central players in the controversy embroiling New York Governor Andrew Cuomo - New York Attorney General Letitia James. It is the report she dropped this week detailing multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Cuomo, her report that has drawn mounting calls for his resignation, including from President Biden. Now Democratic leaders in the New York State Legislature are considering impeachment proceedings. Well, Letitia James has made a long career of taking on powerful people and powerful companies, and we're going to talk about that career with Bloomberg News legal reporter Erik Larson, who has profiled her. Erik Larson, welcome.

ERIK LARSON: Thank you.

KELLY: So a detail I learned from you - a part of what makes this latest chapter in her career so interesting is that she's a former ally of Governor Cuomo. Is that right? What's their relationship?

LARSON: Yeah, that's correct. You know, a lot of folks have said that having his endorsement when she ran for attorney general was, of course, crucial to giving her that, you know, extra boost of legitimacy that she needed for such a big statewide role, having previously been a public advocate for the city of New York and on New York City Council and, before that, a public defender. So going to this huge statewide role of attorney general, it clearly was a big help to get Cuomo's endorsement in that.

KELLY: Yeah. I want to just fill in a little bit more of that background. She is in her early 60s. She is the first Black woman to win statewide office in New York. And you write about her decision to run for attorney general and that it was prompted by a chance encounter at a coffee shop. What happened?

LARSON: Yeah, when I interviewed her for the profile, you know, I asked her why she decided to run for attorney general. And she said that she had a chance encounter with someone at a coffee shop, someone that she knew in the neighborhood in Brooklyn. She - this woman was an undocumented immigrant, and she was explaining that her husband was facing deportation. And the AG says that that was when, you know, she really decided that she wanted to do something to make a difference, when there was so much going on in the area of immigration nationally, and the state attorneys general were deeply involved in challenging the Trump administration on that.

KELLY: Fascinating. The list of adversaries who she has chosen to take on through her career, it is not short. We would be here all day if we went through all of them.

LARSON: (Laughter) Right.

KELLY: Suffice to say, these are not lightweight adversaries - the National Rifle Association, Google, Facebook. I mean, just talk us through a few of the career highlights that leap out to you.

LARSON: Right. And the role of New York attorney general is a very high-profile role to begin with. So, you know, when she took this job, she already had so many lawsuits pending challenging various parts of the Trump administration's policies, but she still found time to join with other state AGs and file these big antitrust lawsuits against Facebook and Google and, of course, the suit against the National Rifle Association trying to dissolve it, accusing it of defrauding its own members. And it just really fit with her long career of fighting on behalf of the little people, so we - we could say.

KELLY: She's also had some big losses. I'm thinking of the 2018 lawsuit against Exxon Mobil. That comes to mind.

LARSON: Yeah, that was a big loss for her. I covered that trial. When the suit was filed, she wasn't yet attorney general, but she did oversee the team that ran the trial. It was a novel case. She was accusing Exxon of ripping off investors through some accounting shenanigans, basically. But the judge threw it out. You know, they didn't appeal. It was sort of a big loss for the states. And also, of course, the Facebook lawsuit has been dismissed by a judge.

KELLY: Yeah.

LARSON: And the states are appealing that decision. So it remains to be seen what will happen with that.

KELLY: It sounds like she's got plenty to keep her busy, but I gather there is some speculation that, in a twist, she might have her eye on Governor Cuomo's job, that if he were to be impeached, she might throw her hat in the ring. Has she said whether she'll run?

LARSON: You know, I have asked her that on more than one occasion, and she does not say no. She says, basically, she's not going to say this early what she's going to do, and she wants to really focus on those cases, winning these lawsuits and isn't going to be distracted by talk for running for governor.

KELLY: Sounds like you will have no shortage of stories to keep you busy as you keep tracking Letitia James' career. That is Erik Larson, legal reporter for Bloomberg News. Thank you so much.

LARSON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.