New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women and created a “hostile” work environment for women, a report released Tuesday by New York Attorney General Letitia James said.
The damning findings of her civil review into the harassment allegations have created a political firestorm around Cuomo after what has already been a scandal-plagued couple of months for the governor.
President Joe Biden said Cuomo should resign. New York legislators of both parties vehemently condemned Cuomo’s conduct and are contemplating whether further action should be taken against the governor. Cuomo denies the allegations and has shown no willingness to resign over them.
Here’s what to know from the report and what to expect next:
A pattern of inappropriate behavior and ‘toxic’ culture in the governor’s office
The investigators said they found a “pattern” of inappropriate behavior by Cuomo, which included both “unwanted” touching and comments of a “suggestive and sexual nature.”
All told, Cuomo harassed multiple women, both current and former staff members, and women outside of his office also reported harassment by the governor, the investigators said.
The accounts of 11 women total were put forward in the report, some of them detailing allegations that never before had been made public. The investigators said their claims were corroborated by other people interviewed, as well as in contemporaneous evidence, like notes, emails and texts written soon after the alleged harassment occurred.
The report detailed a “toxic” workplace environment under Cuomo and said that environment allowed for his allegedly harassing behavior to go overlooked. It also highlighted alleged instances of retaliation against the accusers.
“We also conclude that the Executive Chamber’s culture — one filled with fear and intimidation, while at the same time normalizing the Governor’s frequent flirtations and gender-based comments — contributed to the conditions that allowed the sexual harassment to occur and persist,” the report said.
Numerous allegations of unwanted touching
Several women recounted to investigators unwanted touching by Cuomo, according to the report. One of them, a state trooper who served on Cuomo’s protective detail, said on one occasion, Cuomo ran his finger down her neck and back while they were in an elevator. On another occasion, he ran his hand from her belly button to her right hip while she was holding the door for him, according to the report.
Another accuser, identified as “Executive Assistant 1” in the report, told investigators Cuomo grabbed her buttocks during hugs and a photo. The report also detailed an allegation, previously reported by the Albany Times Union, of an incident at the governor’s mansion in which Cuomo allegedly, reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast. A separate accuser referred to in the report as a “state entity employee,” said Cuomo put his hand on, tapped and then grabbed her buttocks, while they were at a September 2019 event, according to the report.
A woman named Anna Ruch said that Cuomo touched a part of her back exposed by a cutout in her dress, the report said. When she grabbed his wrist to move his hands, he responded, “Wow, you’re aggressive,” according to the report. She was also photographed looking uncomfortable with Cuomo’s hands on her face.
Several of the accusers told the investigators that Cuomo made inappropriate remarks to them, including questions about their sexual histories, comments about their appearance and calling them nicknames like “sweetheart” or “darling.”
Cuomo fires back and shows no intentions of stepping down
In a broadcast response released not long after the report was unveiled, Cuomo gave no indications he planned to resign.
“I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” Cuomo said. He touted his cooperation in the attorney general’s investigation, but he repeatedly suggested it was biased and tainted with politics.
While he straight up denied some of the conduct — such as the alleged groping incident in his governor’s mansion office — he claimed other aspects of his behavior described the report had been taken out of context.
The governor’s office interspersed within his statement photos of Cuomo hugging, kissing and embracing various individuals
“i do kiss people on the forehead, I do kiss people on the cheeks, I do kiss people on the hand,” he said, while claiming that his “everyday interactions” with New Yorkers were being “unfairly” weaponized.
Cuomo claimed “generational or cultural” perspectives he was still learning to understand, and he vowed that “we are making changes.”
An 85-page document his office posted Tuesday responding to the allegations also included photos of the governor hugging or kissing prominent political figures, including Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
‘Overwhelming’ evidence turned up by investigators
The investigation — led by investigators tapped from outside of James’ office — was launched earlier this year, and investigators spoke to 179 people, including New York State Troopers, state employees and others who “interacted regularly with” the governor. The governor himself sat for an interview, as did his brother Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor.
Investigators also reviewed 74,000 pieces of evidence, including notes, emails and other communications memorializing the allegations.
At the press conference Tuesday, Anne Clark, a lawyer leading the in investigation, said that her team had found all 11 women to be credible, while noting the varying degrees of corroboration that backed their accounts.
The evidence presented in the report was “overwhelming,” CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said on CNN Newsroom.
“It’s really devastating,” Honig said, later adding that “we didn’t hear anything from the governor about the very well-supported allegations of retaliation against some of these women who came forward.”
Can Cuomo survive?
Tuesday’s report was damning, and Cuomo’s response — showing a video montage of the governor kissing and touching the faces of men and women, young and old — is certain to have made matters even worse.
The political question is whether a defiant Cuomo can survive as his political allies vanish.
If he chooses to seek a fourth term next year, he would likely face a stiff challenge in the Democratic primary. Attorney General James — who was once a Cuomo ally and who oversaw Tuesday’s report — would be a formidable potential opponent. New York state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a former Cuomo staffer, is also on what could be a long list of possible challengers.
Cuomo also faces trouble with the state legislature, where a committee is conducting an impeachment examination. State Senate Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins said in a statement that Cuomo “can no longer serve as governor.”
New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie late Tuesday said Cuomo has “lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority,” and “can no longer remain in office.”
National Democrats dump Cuomo
As Cuomo flounders in New York, national Democrats rushed to distance themselves from him.
New York’s Democratic US senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, issued a joint statement calling the report’s findings “profoundly disturbing, inappropriate and completely unacceptable” and reiterating their March call for Cuomo to resign. Other New York lawmakers similarly said the third-term governor must go — including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political group charged with protecting the party’s majority in the 2022 midterm elections.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime ally of the Cuomo family, also said the governor should resign.
Biden’s declaration that Cuomo should resign is likely the final signal to Democrats to stay away from the New York governor.
Are legal consequences coming for Cuomo?
At the press conference, James reiterated that her investigation was civil in nature, and that there would not be any criminal actions from office that would follow. “Our work is concluded,” James said.
Still, the investigators said that Cuomo’s violated both state and federal law. Clark, the lawyer leading the investigation, alluded to the possibility of civil lawsuit from the complainants. She also noted that the information had been “fully documented” in the report and was available for other prosecutors to review if they were weighing further action.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares said in a statement that his office was “formally requesting investigative materials obtained by the AG’s Office.”
“[W]e welcome any victim to contact our office with additional information,” Soares said.
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