President Joe Biden led calls for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation and the Legislature appeared headed for impeachment proceedings after an investigation found the state’s top official sexually harassed multiple women working for his office.
“He should resign,” Biden said in Washington after a defiant Cuomo refused to step down.
State Attorney General Letitia James oversaw the probe at the governor’s request earlier this year after former employees publicly alleged Cuomo subjected them to unwanted touching and sexual questions.
While she said that Cuomo broke state and federal law, James didn’t refer the case to prosecutors. But Albany District Attorney David Soares said his office is requesting information obtained by the attorney general’s investigators and is conducting an ongoing criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats called an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon and found there was “no support for Cuomo” to continue as governor, according to sources involved in the discussion. The talk turned to how the chamber could move forward with the impeachment process and what information it needs. State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx) promised to “move expeditiously.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is next in the line of succession, said in a statement that the conduct documented in the report is “repulsive and unlawful.” Hochul, a former U.S. representative from Buffalo, said it was up to the Assembly to “determine the next steps.”
The 168-page report released by James, based on 179 witness interviews including Cuomo, details accounts involving 11 women in all. It includes two newly revealed allegations — including one from a state trooper who told investigators Cuomo touched her suggestively and made loaded comments after he arranged to transfer her to his personal security detail.
Cuomo and his aides created a workplace culture “rife with bullying, fear and intimidation,” lead investigators Joon Kim and Anne Clark found after reviewing 74,000 pieces of evidence that included texts, audio recordings and emails.
The duo also concluded that the governor’s office failed to follow its own internal procedures in fielding a June 2020 complaint from Charlotte Bennett, a then-25-year old aide — shunting her to Cuomo’s handlers instead of a state agency charged with handling complaints.
According to the report and previous news accounts, Bennett sought to report uncomfortable conversations with Cuomo in which he asked questions about her sex life and described his own longing for companionship, after she told him she was a sexual assault survivor.
The team detailed the experience of former state economic development staffer Lindsey Boylan, whom they found was the subject of efforts by Cuomo and associates to publicly discredit her after she went public with allegations that the governor kissed her on the lips uninvited and made inappropriate comments.
Said James in releasing the findings: “The governor and his senior team took action to retaliate against at least one former employee for coming forward.”
The report, she said, reveals a “deeply disturbing, yet clear picture” of sexual harassment.
“It was a culture where you could not say no to the governor and if you upset him or his senior staff you would be written off, cast aside or worse. But at the same time the witnesses described a culture that normalized and overlooked everyday flirtations, physical intimacy and inappropriate comments by the governor,” Kim said.
Facing the most perilous moment in his career, Cuomo rebuked the report’s findings Tuesday afternoon, reiterating earlier assertions that he has “never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”
“I am 63 years old. I have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am, and that’s not who I have ever been,” Cuomo said from the state Capitol in Albany in what appeared to be a prerecorded video.
Broke Law He Signed
While Cuomo refuted the allegations in the report, a slideshow played photographs of the governor hugging and kissing people young and old, male and female — something he does “with everyone,” the governor said.
“It is meant to convey warmth, nothing more,” he added.
An accompanying statement from the counsel to governor, Beth Garvey, also showed other politicians, including former presidents Barack Obama and George Bush, hugging or kissing high-powered officials and civilians. The visual suggestion: that such displays of intimacy are standard political fare.
Ribald talk, Cuomo said in the video, was part of his attempt to inject some levity into a high-stress job with long hours. Of Bennett and her attorney, he said: “They ascribe motives I never had… they heard things I never said.”
Then he struck a note of contrition, adding: “I brought personal experience into the workplace and shouldn’t have done that.”
Kim, a former federal prosecutor, and Clark, a lawyer specializing in sexual misconduct, came to a sharply different conclusion: that Cuomo’s actions amounted to sexual harassment in violation of the law.
At the state level, the law, the report asserts, Cuomo violated was one signed by the governor himself with fanfare, in 2019.
That law, sponsored by state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-The Bronx) and former Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Queens), eliminated a requirement that workplace sexual harassment has to be “severe and pervasive” for a working environment to be considered hostile.
Under the new standard, Clark and Joon note, to prove harassment the evidence has to show only that women were treated more poorly because of gender — a standard they said Cuomo’s conduct clearly met.
What’s more, they determined, the governor’s actions also violated federal law, which still uses the “severe and pervasive” standard to prove sexual harassment.
Cuomo’s conduct “is not just old-fashioned, affectionate behavior, as he and some of his staff members would have it, but unlawful sex-based harassment,” said Clark in releasing the findings.
In a statement following the news conference, James said that her office will share the report and relevant evidence with the state Assembly, whose judiciary committee is investigating whether there are grounds to impeach Cuomo, who is in his third term and up for re-election next year.
“We will cooperate with their investigation as needed,” James said.
Heastie had previously said he would consider holding impeachment hearings after reviewing James’ findings. In a statement Tuesday, he said it was “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.”
“Once we receive all relevant documents and evidence from the attorney general, we will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible,” Heastie added.
According to sources involved in the internal discussions, members are ready to vote to impeach Cuomo, but want to ensure the process is conducted as thoroughly as possible to avoid legal challenges. Questions remained on how quickly the Assembly’s judiciary committee could wrap it’s multi-pronged investigation.
There isn’t much precedent to point to for guidance on how impeachment could occur. Only one governor in New York’s history has been impeached and subsequently removed from office: William Sulzer, who was bounced 10 months into his term in 1913 on charges he lied about his campaign’s finances and used threats to suppress evidence.
Outside investigators hired by the Assembly are not only looking at the sexual harassment allegations, but also his administration’s handling of nursing home deaths during the peak of the pandemic, a $5 million book deal for his pandemic memoir and possible construction defects on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, named for his late father, Gov. Mario Cuomo.
‘Full and Fair Review’
Meanwhile, documented violations of federal and state civil law could leave the governor liable in court. Cuomo said the attorney of one of the women in the report indicated that a lawsuit would be filed against him.
In his roughly 15-minute video statement, Cuomo said, “I welcome the opportunity for a full and fair review before a judge and a jury, because this just didn’t happen.”
Cuomo made no mention of resigning, even as calls for him to step down are mounting from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Among them was Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), chair of the House Democratic Caucus, who with Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) and Thomas Suozzi (D-Queens) called on Cuomo to resign.
‘It is beyond clear that Andrew Cuomo is not fit to hold office.’
Reiterating his demand that Cuomo leave office, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement: “It is beyond clear that Andrew Cuomo is not fit to hold office and can no longer serve as governor. He must resign, and if he continues to resist and attack the investigators who did their jobs, he should be impeached immediately.”
Cuomo, a former state attorney general, had openly questioned the motives of Kim and James, blasting the probe as politically motivated.
As acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Kim won the conviction of a top Cuomo aide, Joe Percoco, on corruption charges. And Cuomo associates have insinuated that James is eager to run for governor herself.
The report, which came months after allegations began mounting against Cuomo, marked the latest blow to a governor who became a national figure via his daily televised news conferences when New York was the epicenter of the pandemic last year.