What to Know
- President Joe Biden offered his strongest language yet regarding the allegations of sexual harassment against Andrew Cuomo, saying that the governor should resign if the investigation confirms the claims
- A third accuser is set to meet with investigators on the allegations; Ana Liss did not come forward with a specific allegation, but rather addressed what she called a "toxic workplace environment"
- The state Assembly named a team of lawyers from Davis Polk & Wardwell -- including a former top federal prosecutor -- to run its own impeachment probe
President Joe Biden says New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should resign if the state attorney general’s investigation confirms the sexual harassment allegations against him. If that's the case, he could end up prosecuted, too, the president said.
Biden made the remarks in an interview with ABC News that aired Wednesday morning.
“It takes a lot of courage to come forward so the presumption is it should be taken seriously,” Biden said. “And it should be investigated, and that’s what’s underway now.”
Biden and Cuomo, once close allies, have not spoken since the allegations were made, officials said. When asked repeatedly about the allegations, White House press secretary Jen Psaki has recited the response that the women should be heard and the investigations should continue. Word went out throughout the West Wing, including to the president, to not talk to members of the governor’s staff except to coordinate the coronavirus response.
Cuomo responded to the president's comments during a Wednesday afternoon press conference, seemingly trying to put Biden's words into perspective.
"Yes, if you commit a crime, you'll be prosecuted. That's true. But what President Biden said was we should do an investigation," Cuomo said during the press conference over the phone. "But the president was asked, should he resign or review first, and the president said there should be a review."
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi echoed Biden's sentiments in an MSNBC interview Wednesday morning, saying there would be "zero tolerance" for Cuomo if an investigation proved any of the allegations against him.
Washington's strongest words yet on the matter come as another of the governor's sexual harassment accusers is expected to meet with state attorney general investigators this week about the case. Her testimony will come days after accuser Charlotte Bennett provided officials with more than 100 pages of records her lawyer said will corroborate her accusations.
Meanwhile, the probe into the third-term governor advanced on another front Wednesday, as the state Assembly named the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell to lead an impeachment investigation.
One of the Davis Polk attorneys, Greg Andres, was part of Robert Mueller's special counsel team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he lead the successful prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The choice attracted some controversy, though. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, a Cuomo ally, is married to former long-time Davis Polk partner Dennis Glazer -- and DiFiore would participate in an impeachment trial if one happened. (The court system issued a statement insisting there was no conflict.)
The appointment was panned by one of the women who has accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, Lindsey Boylan, who said she wouldn’t cooperate with the inquiry.
“What would be the point of survivors talking to investigators of your sham investigation @CarlHeastie?” Boylan tweeted. “I am in conversation with other women who have no interest in your corrupt, cynical ‘investigation.’ Hard pass.”
Boylan tweeted that she believes the Assembly’s decision to task its Judiciary Committee with investigating the governor “is not designed to be transparent or to move fast, and there’s nothing @NYGovCuomo wants more than time.”
“Many of us have not put our whole lives on the line for this crap. I certainly have not and will not,” she tweeted.
Attorneys for second accuser Charlotte Bennett were also concerned that the law firm was too closely aligned with Cuomo, in relation to the firm’s past affiliation with Glazer, a Cuomo political appointee. Glazer was at the law firm for 30 years before his retirement. Cuomo appointed him to the board of a state university and a board that helped pick the sites of casinos.
“This is an unacceptable conflict of interest,” said Bennett’s lawyer, Debra Katz. “While Ms. Bennett is committed to cooperating with all appropriate governmental inquiries, including the impeachment investigation, the involvement of Davis Polk gives her pause.”
Cuomo, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, said he would not take any questions or make any comments on the inquiry.
"I'm not going to resign. Find out the facts and we'll take it from there," he said.
AG's Probe Advances
Ana Liss, who spoke in a TV interview earlier this month about the alleged "toxic workplace environment" in the embattled governor's office, plans to meet with the attorney general's investigators on Thursday.
She is one of six women, several of them former members of his staff, who have alleged that the longtime Democratic governor sexually harassed or behaved inappropriately. Cuomo has repeatedly denied touching any woman in such a manner.
In her four-hour interview with investigators Monday, Bennett provided authorities with 120 pages of records from the time of the alleged harassment and other documentary evidence to corroborate her accusations, her lawyer, Debra Katz, said in a statement. Bennett revealed new details about Cuomo’s behavior and what she said was a “sexually hostile work environment,” according to Katz.
“The investigators have been moving quickly, and with sensitivity, to get to the heart of these allegations,” Katz said. “We remain confident that their investigation will substantiate Charlotte’s claims of sexual harassment against Gov. Cuomo, as well as the failure of his senior staff to meet their mandatory reporting requirements under the very laws he signed.”
Fellow Cuomo accuser Lindsey Boylan was also interviewed by the attorney general's investigators last weekend, her attorney Jill Basinger said later Monday.
"It is clear from the interview that the investigators are moving expeditiously and taking their work seriously," Basinger said. "We are pleased with the scope of the investigation and the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of their questioning."
The governor's office is also facing scrutiny after a New York Times report said that those close to Cuomo sent a letter to aides that attacked Boylan's credibility. The newspaper reports that in the letter were personnel complaints filed against Boylan and it tried to tie her to supporters of former president Donald Trump, implying that her claims were premeditated and politically motivated.
The idea behind the letter was to have former Cuomo aides — particularly women — attach their names to it and send it out. While the letter was sent to some former advisers and then to current and former top aides, it was not clear how many people were asked to sign the letter. It was never released.
Earlier in the week, a Siena College Poll of New York revealed that a majority of voters (50 - 35 percent) believe Cuomo should not immediately resign. While 48-34 percent, they say he can continue to effectively do his job as governor.
“That’s what I’m hearing from New Yorkers - I have a job to do, they want me to do the job," Cuomo told reporters Wednesday.
The poll, which was conducted between March 8 through 12, showed that voters are satisfied with the way Cuomo has addressed the allegations, 57-32 percent.
“While many elected officials – Democrats and Republicans alike – have called for Cuomo’s resignation, by a 50-35 percent margin, the voters of New York say Cuomo should not immediately resign. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans say Cuomo should resign, however, 61 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents, a plurality, say he should not,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “A majority of New York City voters and a plurality of voters from both upstate and the downstate suburbs say he should not resign.
"Similarly, voters say despite the ongoing investigations, Cuomo can continue to effectively do his job as governor, 48-34 percent,” Greenberg said. “A strong majority of Democrats and a plurality of independents say he can govern effectively, while two-thirds of Republicans disagree. Voters outside of New York City are closely divided, however, a strong majority of New York City voters say he can effectively do his job.”
Overall, the poll found that one-third of voters say that Cuomo has committed sexual harassment, one-quarter say he has not, and a plurality are unsure.
“While more voters, 35 percent, say Cuomo has committed sexual harassment than those who say he has not committed sexual harassment, 24 percent, the plurality of voters, 41 percent, are undecided,” Greenberg said.
The Siena College Poll not only touched upon the controversial allegations against the governor. The poll also looked into what voters think of Cuomo's handling of the ongoing pandemic -- and although he received positive marks, there is one exception in which New Yorkers aren't too thrilled with the governor.
When it comes to the pandemic, the voters polled approve of Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic, 60-33 percent, compared to the 61-34 percent last month.
Voters give Cuomo positive grades on four specifics related to the pandemic – communicating, providing accurate information, reopening plans, and managing the vaccine rollout. However, when it comes to making COVID-related nursing home death data public, the approval rating changes and voters give Cuomo a negative grade, 27-66 percent.
Overall, Cuomo has a 43-45 percent favorability rating, down significantly from 56-39 percent in February, according to the poll. His job performance rating is 46-52 percent, which is also down from 51-47 percent the previous month. Additionally, 34 percent of voters say they are prepared to re-elect Cuomo if he runs for re-election next year and 52 percent say they would "prefer someone else" -- these percentages are down from the 46-45 in February.
“Cuomo’s standing with voters has clearly fallen in the last month. His favorability rating and his re-elect number are both down net 19 points, while his job performance rating is down net 10 points,” Greenberg said. “Cuomo’s drop in all three ratings is largely the result of Democrats. Among Democrats alone, his favorability rating dropped net 31 points and his re-elect dropped net 33 points. In fact, only 46 percent of Democrats now want to re-elect Cuomo, compared to 40 percent who want someone else, down from 65-26 percent last month."
Cuomo has tried to press on and project normalcy amid the scandal. On Monday, he appeared at a vaccination site on Long Island in an event closed to the press —ostensibly because of COVID-19 restrictions — where he talked about the importance of getting a new state budget done by an April 1 deadline. He didn’t address the scandal but did speak generally of comebacks in the face of adversity.
“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 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.”
The governor said that budget was critical to getting the state back on its feet. That process normally involves intense negotiations and deal-making between Cuomo and the two top leaders in the Legislature — which this year consists of some of the same people who have demanded that he step down.
Several prominent New York Democrats, including Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have called on Cuomo to step down. The three-term governor has refused to resign and has denied he did what has been alleged.
More than 130 state lawmakers have said Cuomo should resign, including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The state Assembly has opened up an impeachment investigation. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced on Twitter early Wednesday morning that a law firm will be hired to assist the Assembly Judiciary Committee in their impeachment investigation.
Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat on the Senate finance committee, said the allegations surrounding Cuomo have distracted him and lawmakers. He said Democrats who now have veto-proof supermajorities are hoping Cuomo will support long-stalled efforts to legalize marijuana and raise taxes on New Yorkers making more than a million dollars.
“The governor is clearly distracted and that’s not going to help his position,” Liu said. “At the very minimum, he’s facing serious investigations as well as calls for his resignation. None of that adds to his negotiating position.”
Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat of Manhattan, said budget discussions with Cuomo’s staff are ongoing and called the overall dynamic “awkward to say the least.”
“It’s not everyday that you and your colleagues demand the head of your party to step down and proceed with a negotiation,” Hoylman, who chairs the Senate’s judiciary committee and sits on its finance committee, said. “I also think it speaks to why so many of us are concerned with these swirling scandals and the ability for the executive to manage this situation.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading the investigation into the allegations. Last week, she named former federal prosecutor Joon Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne Clark to lead the investigation, which Cuomo has said he will cooperate with. They have full subpoena power and will document their findings in a public report.