Letitia James

Cuomo Defiant After AG Probe Says 11 Women Were Sexually Harassed; Biden Calls for Resignation

Asked at a coronavirus briefing, President Joe Biden said Gov. Andrew Cuomo should resign following the state's investigation

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What to Know

  • The New York attorney general's investigation into allegations of sexual harassment found Gov. Andrew Cuomo "sexually harassed multiple women, and in doing so violated federal and state law"
  • The 165-page report details the inner-working of the Governor's office, including an effort in at least one instance to retaliate against one of those women
  • Investigators said interviews with 179 and tens of thousands of documents corroborate reports of 11 women, including a state trooper assigned to the governor's protection detail

New York Attorney General Letitia James and the team of attorneys selected to investigate allegations of sexual harassment made against Gov. Andrew Cuomo have completed their investigation and released a public report of their findings.

The attorney general's report, which has been made available to the public for the first time Tuesday, found that the sexual harassment faced by nearly a dozen women is in violation of state and federal law. Demands for Cuomo's resignation were swift and came from levels of government as high up as the White House, where President Joe Biden said the governor should step down.

Gov. Cuomo "sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a sexually suggestive nature that created a hostile work environment for women," the attorney general stated Tuesday.

James said the 165-page report on the investigation details the inner-workings of the governor's office, his harassment of multiple women, including an effort in at least one instance to retaliate against one of those women, and details what is described as a toxic work environment in and around the governor's chambers.

A timeline of the investigation into and allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Many of the women said they feared retaliation if they reported Cuomo’s behavior, investigators said, describing his administration as a hostile workplace “rife with fear and intimidation.”

On one occasion, the probe found, Cuomo’s staff took action “intended to discredit and disparage” an accuser — Lindsey Boylan, the first former employee to publicly accuse him of wrongdoing — including leaking confidential personnel files and drafting a letter attacking her credibility.

Addressing the attorney general's report mere hours after it was made public, Cuomo, in a 15-minute speech that appeared to be pre-taped, sought to cast blame for his swirling controversies on the press and a "toxic" political system. An attorney representing Cuomo released an 85-page response to the probe's findings "to set the record straight."

Read Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Legal Response to the AG’s Sexual Harassment Report Here

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's full response to the investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James.

"The facts are much different than what has been portrayed," the governor said, who maintained he never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate advances.

Cuomo, as strident in his own defense as ever, resorted to a montage of photos showing him hugging and kissing people of all ages — including his mother and President Joe Biden — and persuasions to try and demonstrate his status as a man of the people, not a deliverer of untoward advances.

Read the Cuomo Report From the NY Attorney General’s Office

The report states that 11 women were sexually harassed including state employees and a New York State Trooper assigned to the unit to protect the governor. The investigators spoke to 179 individuals, including the governor's accusers, current and formers members of the Executive Chamber, troopers and other state employees.

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

The lead investigators, Joon Kim and Anne Clark, elaborated on key findings of their five-month probe. The attorneys explain the report outlines the pattern of behavior where Cuomo "engaged in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging and making inappropriate comments."

Findings indicate that Governor Cuomo violated federal and state laws.

In several instances, Clark said, the governor inappropriately touched a state trooper assigned to his detail -- an accusation not made public before the report's release. The trooper told the investigators that Cuomo ran his finger from her neck down her spine while the two were standing in an elevator.

"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 where the hip or she keeps her gun," Clark said.

This alleged behavior followed Cuomo's request to have the trooper reassigned specifically to his protective detail, although she did meet the three-year service requirement for the post.

The report also included an allegation from a woman who worked for an energy company who said Cuomo touched her chest at an event. The woman said Cuomo ran his fingers across the lettering on her shirt, reading the name of her company aloud. Then he leaned in and said: “I’m going to say I see a spider on your shoulder,” and brushed his hand in between her shoulder and breasts, the report said.

The evidence presented and uncovered by the team of investigators illustrated a widespread pattern of "conduct that is not just old-fashioned, affectionate behavior as he and some of his staff members would have it, but unlawful sex-based harassment," Clark added.

The pattern displayed by the governor -- asking women why they were in relationships, if they would cheat on their partners, telling women they look great for their age -- as detailed by the special deputies, flies in the face of a law passed by the governor in 2019 that states conduct "need not be 'severe or pervasive to constitute actionable conduct." His repeated behavior not only meets but exceeds the standard of sexual harassment as outlined by the law, they said.

Investigation finds that the culture within the Executive Chamber contributed to the conditions that allowed the sexual harassment to occur and persist.

"Our investigation has also found that the Executive Chamber responded to allegations of sexual harassment in ways that violated their own internal policies and also constituted unlawful retaliation with respect to one of the complainants," Kim said. "Based on our investigation, we concluded that the Executive Chamber workplace culture -- rife with bullying, fear and intimidation -- on the one hand while normalizing frequent flirtations and gender-based comments by the governor on the other, created the conditions that allowed the sexual harassment and retaliation to occur and to persist."

The independent investigation is civil, not criminal, the attorney general reiterated on Tuesday. But the "unlawful, sex-based harassment" and retaliation detailed in the report is now public and available to prosecutors and police departments should either review the findings and determine that criminal charges are warranted.

At least one district attorney's office has publicly confirmed the start of a criminal probe. A statement from the Albany County District Attorney said a formal request is forthcoming to obtain the investigative materials from the attorney general's probe.

The revelations, most of which were initially made public last winter, led to a chorus of calls then for Cuomo’s resignation from many top elected Democrats in New York. Many of those calls were repeated or reiterated on Tuesday.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who controls the governor's impeachment probe, said the "gut-wrenching" findings in the report "would indicate someone who is not fit for office." State Democrats convened for much of Tuesday afternoon to discuss the report's revelations and next steps.

He said the governor has lost the confidence of the Democratic majority and upon receipt of the attorney general's evidence, would finish the impeachment probe "as quickly as possible." The attorney general confirmed Tuesday that relevant evidence would be turned over to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who would replace the governor if he stepped down or faced an impeachment trial, called Cuomo's behavior "repulsive and unlawful," and said any next steps following the probe would come from the Assembly.

"Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any workplace, and certainly not in public service. The Attorney General’s investigation has documented repulsive and unlawful behavior by the Governor towards multiple women. I believe these brave women and admire their courage coming forward," Hochul said in a statement.

LIST: These Democrats Are Calling for Andrew Cuomo to Resign (Again)

U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said after the report’s release Tuesday that it reinforces a call for his resignation they first made last March.

“No elected official is above the law. The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor’s office. We continue to believe that the Governor should resign,” they said in a joint statement.

In an 11-hour interview with investigators last month, Cuomo admitted to certain behavior while denying other allegations, investigators said. For example, Clark said, he conceded asking Bennett whether she had been involved with older men and said he may have kissed the state trooper at an event but denied touching her.

Asked about an allegation that he grabbed a woman’s breast at the executive mansion, according to the report, Cuomo responded: “I would have to lose my mind to do such a thing” to a woman he hardly knew with multiple staff members around.

Cuomo always denied inappropriate touching, but he initially said he was sorry if his behavior with women was “misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation.” He got more combative in recent months, saying he did nothing wrong.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo responds to allegations of sexual harassment from former aide Charlotte Bennett, saying her experiences as a sexual assault survivor reminded him of his own daughters.

He has also questioned the neutrality of the lawyers leading the probe. Kim, was involved in previous investigations of corruption by people in Cuomo’s administration.

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 investigation into whether or not there were public funds or resources used to help write Cuomo's book or sell it has not yet concluded and is ongoing as part of a separate investigation, the attorney general announced.

Allegations of sexual harassment by the governor were made public in February by former Cuomo aides Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennette, weeks after Attorney General James released a scathing report saying the state may have undercounted COVID-related nursing home deaths by thousands.

The compounding claims of wrongdoing were met with intense public pressure for an independent probe into the governor, who eventually granted the power to James after initially selecting a judge who had distant ties to Cuomo. He has repeatedly denied allegations of wrongdoing.

President Joe Biden says New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should resign.

The Investigation

The attorney general's probe was initially focused on the claims of sexual harassment by a couple of former staffers. Over time though, the investigation ballooned to include allegations from more than half a dozen women and reports from dozens of current and former staffers of mistreatment while working in Albany.

James selected former acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne L. Clark to lead the office's investigations.

The investigatory team had subpoena power to examine relevant documents, records, and data relating to the case and conduct interviews and formal depositions. They were instructed to give weekly reports to the state attorney general and produce a written final report of their findings, now released to the public.

Additionally, their probe looked into whether Cuomo had members of his family get prioritized, special access to COVID testing during the early stages of the pandemic last year, and potential misuse of state resources to produce and promote his published book covering the COVID-19 pandemic; the latter investigation made at the request of State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

The probe is not a criminal one, but the report released by the attorney general could significantly influence the state legislature's impeachment inquiry.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has named two prosecutors that will partake in the investigation into Gov. Cuomo's behavior as he faces continued pressure to step down, Jonathan Dienst reports

In late July, the governor publicly questioned the neutrality of both Kim and Clark at a press conference. Cuomo said he had "concerns as to the independence of the reviewers," without providing any further details to support his comments.

The chair of the New York Assembly's judiciary committee, Charles Lavine, wrote a letter to Cuomo warning his office to stop disparaging the investigators. At the time, Cuomo's spokesperson, Rich Azzopardi, had been implying on social media that James' investigation was motivated by a desire to run for governor.

Around the same time, Cuomo had been scheduled to meet with the team of investigators in Albany as the probe moved into its fifth month. A number of the governor's accusers have also given sworn depositions to the investigators.

Cuomo himself had appointed a special prosecutor in 2018 to explore allegations that former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, abused four women during what were supposed to be romantic encounters. The special prosecutor ultimately didn't bring any charges. In a twist of fate, Cuomo at the time called on Schneiderman to resign over the public allegations of assault.

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.”

Meanwhile, 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 Allegations

Accusations range from groping under a woman’s shirt and planting unwanted kisses, to asking unwelcome personal questions about sex and dating — including whether an employee would have sex with an older man.

A former aide to the governor, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo quizzed her about her sex life, asked if she felt age made a difference in relationships and said he was fine dating "anyone above the age of 22." Bennett said she believed he was gauging her interest in an affair. Cuomo has denied making advances on Bennett.

Bennett's allegations came only a few days after former senior staffer Lindsey Boylan published an explosive blog post in which she alleged the governor invited her to play strip poker during a flight, among other alleged sexual advances. On one occasion in 2016, she claimed that Cuomo blocked her exit from a room and kissed her.

In addition to sexual harassment claims from Boylan and Bennett, a former executive assistant and health policy adviser, Anna Ruch, said the governor touched the small of her exposed back and asked if he could kiss her within moments of meeting at a wedding in 2019.

A photo from the event shows Cuomo with his hands around Ruch's face. She said he made her feel "uncomfortable and embarrassed" when he asked to kiss her.

Less than a week after Ruch came forward, two former aides, one from his time as HUD Secretary and one from the governor's office, accused Cuomo of inappropriate physical contact, bringing the number of harassment accusations against him to five. Cuomo's office dismissed reports of a "toxic culture" on his team, saying he demands excellence from his staff.

And then, on March 9, one day after James appointed the two attorneys to the independent investigation, came one of the most serious accusations made against the governor from a current aide. The unnamed staffer accused Cuomo of groping her at the governor's mansion in 2020.

The unnamed staffer called it a frightening physical encounter in which the governor slammed a door and said “I don’t care” when she warned someone might see what he was doing. She said that Cuomo had been inappropriately hugging and flirting with her for years, grooming her with tight hugs and kisses on the cheek, but said this particular incident went even further. The governor reached under her blouse and his hand was grasping one of her breasts over her bra, according to the woman.

Cuomo said the details of her story are "gut-wrenching" and denied the allegation, saying "I have never done anything like this."

The governor has repeatedly and vehemently denied many of the allegations but offered a rare apology months ago to anyone who interpreted his actions as "unwanted flirtation." Despite calls for the three-term governor to step down by nearly every elected Democrat in New York from all levels of government, Cuomo remained adamant that he will not resign.

Cuomo has increasingly argued that politics is the main driver of criticism against him, and has questioned the motives of accusers.

Attention turned to President Joe Biden to weigh in on the allegations following comments from other top Democrats in Washington. In March, Biden said that Cuomo should resign if the attorney general's investigation confirmed allegations of sexual harassment made against him.

“The facts will come out” in the attorney general's investigation, Cuomo said when questioned by the press at the arrival of each new allegation of sexual harassment, reiterating his position that he “never knew at the time” that he was making anyone feel uncomfortable.

Another woman - this time a current aide in the Governor's Mansion - has accused him of sexual harassment. Andrew Siff reports.

Cuomo Under Fire

In addition to those claims, Cuomo also faces allegations of verbal abuse and threats by a lawmaker as well as a federal probe into how his administration handled COVID nursing home deaths.

Queens assemblyman Ron Kim said he'd been harassed and threatened by the governor, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said publicly that being threatened by Cuomo was "classic" behavior for him, federal prosecutors launched an investigation into how the Cuomo administration handled COVID in nursing homes. Cuomo's spokespeople have denied any wrongdoing in that specific instance, or in general with the handling of nursing homes.

As a result of the flurry of scandals, New York legislators voted to strip the governor of his pandemic-linked emergency powers and return matters like lockdowns to local control.

It has been a stunning reversal of fortune for Cuomo, who months ago was so popular that he was seen as a top candidate for attorney general in the Biden administration, and was considered a frontrunner for the Democrats' nomination for president in 2024.

As the first allegations of sexual harassment came to light at the start of 2021, Cuomo tried to press on and project normalcy amid the scandals. Ultimately, he struggled to keep his head above water after his daily coronavirus press briefings were overwhelmed by questions into his alleged wrongdoing. For weeks, Cuomo retreated from what had become regular on-camera press conferences he had become universally recognized for during the height of the pandemic's grip on New York; even earning him an Emmy award months later.

“Sometimes, God comes and he knocks you on your rear end for one reason or another, or life comes and knocks you on your rear end for one reason or another,” Cuomo said in a March 15 comment that was intended to reference the state’s situation but could also apply to his personal troubles. ”The question is what you do when you get knocked on your rear end. And New Yorkers get up, and they get up stronger, and they learn the lesson.”

Another legal team — hired by the state Assembly for an impeachment inquiry — is investigating the women's claims, as well as the cover-up of COVID death data on nursing home residents by Cuomo aides.

Federal prosecutors are also investigating the governor, in part over his administration’s months-long decision to keep nursing home COVID-19 data secret.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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