NYS attorney general finds Cuomo engaged in 'unlawful sexual harassment' in 11 corroborated cases
An investigation into Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo found that he sexually harassed multiple current and former state government employees, state Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday.
The nearly five-month investigation, conducted by two outside lawyers who spoke to 179 people, found that the Cuomo administration was a “hostile work environment” and that it was “rife with fear and intimidation.” People interviewed included complainants, current and former members of the executive chamber, State troopers, additional state employees and others who interacted regularly with the governor.
“These interviews and pieces of evidence revealed a deeply disturbing yet clear picture: Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws,” James said at a press conference on Tuesday. "
“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.”
James said her investigation has concluded. There were no referrals to criminal prosecutors, though that wouldn’t preclude local authorities from using the evidence and findings of the report to mount their own cases. She also did not call for the governor’s resignation, saying that decision is up to him.
On at least one occasion, the investigation found, Cuomo and his senior staff worked to retaliate against a former employee who accused him of wrongdoing. Cuomo was also found to have harassed women outside of government, the investigation found.
Cuomo faced multiple allegations last winter that he inappropriately touched and sexually harassed women who worked with him or who he met at public events. One aide in his office said he groped her breast.
Another, Lindsey Boylan, said Cuomo kissed her on the lips after a meeting in his office and "would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs." After Boylan first made her allegations public in December, the Cuomo administration undercut her story by releasing personnel memos to media outlets revealing that Boylan resigned after she was confronted about complaints she belittled and yelled at her staff. Boylan has said those records "were leaked to the media in an effort to smear me."
Other aides have said that the Democratic governor asked them unwelcome personal questions about sex and dating. One former aide, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo asked if she was open to sex with an older man. 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.
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 often 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.
Last winter there was a chorus of calls for Cuomo's resignation from many top elected Democrats in New York, including two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. But Cuomo refused to quit and has been raising money for a fourth term in office.
His position on the allegations has also hardened into one of defiance. Cuomo has always denied touching anyone inappropriately, but he initially said he was sorry if his behavior with women was "misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation." In recent months, he's taken a more combative tack, saying he did nothing wrong and questioning the motives of accusers and critics.
He has also questioned the neutrality of the lawyers hired by the attorney general to investigate the allegations. One of the attorneys, Joon Kim, was involved in previous investigations of corruption by people in Cuomo's administration when he was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan. Cuomo hasn't expressly said why he believes that would make Kim biased.
The attorney general's report is expected to play an important role in an ongoing inquiry in the state Assembly into whether there are grounds for Cuomo to be impeached.
The Assembly hired its own legal team to investigate Cuomo's conduct, plus other allegations of wrongdoing. The legislature is looking into the help Cuomo got from senior aides to write a book about the pandemic, special access that Cuomo relatives got to COVID-19 testing last year, and the administration's decision to withhold some data on nursing home deaths from the public for several months.
Some members of the judiciary committee have said they expect James' report to be "critical" for the impeachment investigation.
New York state regulations say sexual harassment includes unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature — from unwanted flirtation to sexual jokes — that creates an offensive work environment, regardless of a perpetrator's intent. The governor, in contrast, has repeatedly argued that he did not intend to harass anyone. His office has said he took the state's mandated sexual harassment training, but has not provided any documentation proving he did.
Cuomo championed a landmark 2019 state law that made it easier for sexual harassment victims to prove their case in court. Alleged victims no longer have to meet the high bar of proving sexual harassment is "severe and pervasive."
Albany County District Attorney David Soares said his office will be requesting information that James' office obtained and is also asking victims to contact his office.
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.”