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Calls For Gov. Cuomo's Resignation Intensify Following Scathing AG Report Corroborating Sexual Harassment Allegations

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Don Pollard
/
Gov. Cuomo's Flickr page
Gov. Cuomo at an event in June.

New York Attorney General Tish James on Tuesday released the findings of an investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo that concluded he violated multiple state and federal laws by sexually harassing multiple women, including current and former staffers.

The report also found that the governor fostered a toxic and hostile work environment.

James, along with her appointed investigators — former acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim and employment attorney Anne Clark — reviewed 74,000 pieces of evidence and interviewed 179 people. That included Cuomo and members of his current and former staff.

"These interviews and pieces of evidence reveal a deeply disturbing yet clear picture,” James said. “Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of both federal and state laws."

The independent investigation found that Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging, and by making inappropriate comments.”

The report includes testimony from 11 female accusers, including one referred to in the report as “Executive Assistant 1.” She has previously claimed that she was a victim of sexual assault by Cuomo and alleged several offensive interactions with him, including an incident at the Executive Mansion in November 2020. In that incident, she said Cuomo reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast.

In an account from another accuser, a female state trooper assigned to guard Cuomo said the governor touched her inappropriately on numerous occasions.

In an elevator, while standing behind the trooper, he ran his finger from her neck, down her spine and said, ‘Hey, you,’” Clark said.

Another time, she was standing, holding the door open for the governor. As he passed, he took his open hand and ran it across her stomach from her belly button to the hip where she keeps her gun. She told us that she felt completely violated.”

The trooper also stated that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions.

She then tried to deflect the conversation by asking the governor what he was looking for in a girlfriend. He responded that he was looking for somebody who could handle pain.”

Her account was corroborated by several other state troopers who witnessed some of the incidents.

Kim said Cuomo and his aides created a toxic work culture, one that an alleged victim called “a kind of Twilight Zone atmosphere” where inappropriate acts by the governor were normalized.

As one senior staffer stated bluntly — as the sexual harassment allegations became public in March of this year — in text exchanges with another (staff member) in the administration, ‘Hopefully when this is all done, people will realize the culture, even outside of the sexual harassment stuff, is not something you can get away with. You can’t berate and terrify people 24/7.’” Kim said.

The report also noted that Cuomo and his top aides illegally retaliated against one of his accusers, Lindsey Boylan, by releasing some of her personnel records to reporters. Cuomo’s chief of staff, Melissa DeRosa, is singled out for not properly reporting sexual harassment incidents between the governor and former aide Charlotte Bennett.

James stopped short of making a criminal referral and she did not call for the governor’s resignation, saying that decision is up to him.

James said the incident with Executive Assistant 1 was reported to the Albany Police Department.

Reaction in New York’s political world was swift, with leading elected officials, both Democrat and Republican, reiterating calls for Cuomo to resign. The most ominous is a statement by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose house is conducting an impeachment inquiry. Heastie said that the conduct by Cuomo, as outlined in the report, would indicate someone who is not fit for office. Heastie said the report has been referred to the Assembly Impeachment Inquiry Committee and that he’ll have more to say in the near future.

At the conclusion of the news conference, James wrapped up the report's findings by saying, “These 11 women were in a hostile, toxic work environment. And we should believe women. And that what we have an obligation and a duty to do is to protect women in their workplace. And what this investigation revealed was a disturbing pattern of conduct by the governor of the great state of New York, and those who basically did not put in place any protocols and procedures to protect these young women, who believed in public service. I believe women.”

Cuomo, in a recorded video response, offered a mixture of denials and admissions, and says he won’t let the report “distract” him continuing to do his job as governor. And he says the facts are much different than what has been portrayed.

“I want you to know directly from me, that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” Cuomo said. “I’ve lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am.”

He says while he does frequently hug and kiss people, he now realizes that there are generational and cultural differences that he did not perceive, and will correct his behavior going forward. He apologized directly to former staffer Charlotte Bennett, who has accused him of grooming her for a sexual encounter and asking inappropriate questions about her surviving a sexual assault, saying he was only trying to help Bennett.

He says Bennett and her lawyer, Debra Katz “drew inferences” and “ascribed motives” to his comments that were never meant.

“Charlotte, I want you to know that I am truly and deeply sorry, “,Cuomo said. “I brought my personal experience into the workplace, and I shouldn’t have done that.”

Katz, said in a statement that the findings corroborate her client’s claims that Cuomo "sexually harassed her during her employment as his executive assistant and his enablers protected him and covered it up.”

The governor says he’s hired an outside firm to conduct new comprehensive anti-sexual harassment training for him and his aides. And he took a shot, indirectly, at AG James, saying those seeking publicity discredit legitimate claims of sexual harassment.

Cuomo’s says his private attorney has written a point by point response to James’s report, and he has posted that on his website.

CALLS FOR CUOMO'S RESIGNATION

The calls for Cuomo's resignation ranged from President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. But the state legislature is where Cuomo faces impeachment.

Syracuse-area state senator John Mannion is among those renewing his call for Governor Cuomo to resign. He initially said as much back in March when the allegations first surfaced. The report is now before the assembly’s judiciary committee, and Mannion says it’s time for lawmakers to act if the governor refuses to leave office.

"Considering this investigation and the report that's been released, we're probably working under more of a compressed timeline than we were in the past. I do believe there's a level for them [the assembly] to at a minimum to convene and vote for an impeachment trial."

That appears to be what's happening. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tweeted, "It is abundantly clear to me that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office. ...we will...move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible."

Syracuse-area Assemblymember and Majority Conference Chair Pam Hunter says the findings in AG James' report are deeply disturbing and at times difficult to read.

"Based on the overwhelming evidence from the report, it is clear that Governor Andrew Cuomo is no longer fit to serve, or to remain in office. It is time for the Assembly Judiciary Committee to review the evidence and findings from the Attorney General’s Independent Investigators and present impeachment articles to the full body of the Assembly."

But her colleague, Assemblymember Bill Magnarelli, stopped short of calling for Cuomo's resignation, despite saying the AG’s findings are "disturbing and troubling." He says it’s appropriate to read the report and talk to counsel about proceeding further, with due process, in the assembly.

If the assembly ultimately decides to approve articles of impeachment, Senator John Mannion says the impeachment trial will be conducted in senate. He says he's ready to listen to evidence presented by both sides.

CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION WEIGHS IN

Central New York’s entire congressional delegation is once again calling on Governor Cuomo to resign in light of the independent investigation and report confirming sexual harassment allegations against him. In a joint statement, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand say in a statement that the Attorney General’s report substantiates and corroborates the governor’s disturbing actions as reported by the brave women who came forward to share their stories. The senators, both democrats, say no elected official is above the law, and the people of New York deserve better leadership.

Over in the House, Representative John Katko says in a statement that officials at all levels of government have a duty to prevent what he calls horrific conduct. Instead, Katko, a republican, says Cuomo enabled it, and for that, he must resign. Congressmember Claudia Tenney, also a republican, says Cuomo should resign and be prosecuted for breaking the law. She says she’s been trying to hold Cuomo accountable since she was in the assembly in 2014, after he used a commission on public corruption to attack political opponents, then disbanded it when his actions came under scrutiny.