NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) formally referred allegations of sexual harassment against him to the state's attorney general on Monday, a move that initiates an investigation of the veteran politician after two former aides alleged misconduct.

The required referral letter was sent to the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), who will name outside investigators to head the probe of Cuomo’s alleged misdeeds involving two women who worked in his administration. The letter, signed by Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior adviser to the governor, was disseminated in a news release later in the day.

“All New York State employees have been directed to fully cooperate with this review,” Garvey wrote, adding that she would be the point of contact for interviews and documents from the executive chamber and other relevant offices.

James, in a statement released Monday, said her office would release a public report at the conclusion of the investigation, which will begin after the outside attorneys or law firm is retained.

“This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” James said in a statement with the letter’s release.

Initially, Cuomo resisted sending the review to James’s office, instead suggesting former federal judge Barbara Jones be selected to take up the issue and pivoting later to propose the state’s highest-ranking judge, Janet DiFiore, run the inquiry. Those efforts were quickly overcome by demands from Cuomo’s fellow Democrats for an independent probe.

Former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett detailed her alleged experience with Cuomo in a New York Times article on Saturday, saying the third-term governor harassed her last spring during the peak of the state’s coronavirus response. The 25-year-old told the Times that Cuomo, 63, delved into her personal life in inappropriate ways and sought her opinion on romantic relationships with older men.

Another accuser, Lindsey Boylan, said last week in an essay published on Medium that Cuomo made inappropriate gestures and comments, including on a flight back from an event across the state in 2017, sought to engineer meetings with her alone and once kissed her on the mouth at his office in New York City.

Both women said they were uncomfortable and feared repercussions for brushing him off.

A third woman, Anna Ruch, on Monday described to the New York Times an unwelcome encounter with Cuomo at a 2019 wedding in Manhattan.

In an Instagram story reviewed by The Washington Post, Ruch superimposed a statement over a screenshot of a Times story about Bennett’s account.

“Slid his hand on my lower back which I promptly removed and then he proceeded to grab my face with both hands and asked if he could kiss me, laid one on my cheek and then told me I was aggressive,” she wrote.

She later posted an image of the encounter, which showed Cuomo with his hands on both sides of her face. Ruch could not immediately be reached for comment.

In a statement Sunday, Cuomo said he “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm” and described his actions as the result of his “playful” nature.

“I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good-natured way,” the statement read. “ … I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”

He added that he “never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody.”

Bennett said in a statement Monday that Cuomo’s comments amounted to a refusal “to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior.”

She said the fact that Cuomo agreed to an independent investigation only after “significant backlash” shows he’s a person “who wields his power to avoid justice.”

In a separate statement, Bennett’s attorney, Debra S. Katz, called Cuomo’s behavior “textbook sexual harassment” and said his own comments about his exchanges with employees are evidence that “the problem is a systemic one and the Attorney General must investigate whether other women were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment.”

“We are confident that no disinterested investigator who reviews this evidence would adopt the Governor’s self-serving characterization of his behavior as mentorship or, at worst, unwanted flirtation,” Katz added.

The Washington-based civil rights attorney also called on James’s office to identify anyone in Cuomo’s administration who enabled his behavior.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has a long-running feud with Cuomo, said in a news briefing Monday that Cuomo’s words were “not an apology.” He pointed to Cuomo’s suggestion that his jokes with staff may have been misinterpreted, noting “sexual harassment is not funny.”

Cuomo “just clearly was letting himself off the hook for something that for the women involved sounded pretty terrifying,” the mayor added.

Later, in a CNN interview, DeBlasio said Cuomo should resign if the accusations are true. “If these allegations, if these charges are proven, there’s just no way he can govern,” he said.

Since the accusations were made, Cuomo has avoided public appearances. The revelations followed questions about whether his office purposely underreported nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey in Washington contributed to this report.