NEW YORK CITY (WROC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, including former and current state employees, in violation of both federal and state law, according to New York Attorney General Letitia James who announced the findings of her office’s investigation into the governor Tuesday.
The governor denied these claims in a pre-recorded video released Tuesday.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately, or made inappropriate sexual advances,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I am 63-years-old. I lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am and that is now who I have ever been. It’s important to me that you fully understand that.”
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. They also reviewed more than 74,000 piece of evidence, including documents, emails, text messages, audio files and pictures.
The attorney general’s office has been investigating Cuomo over his administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, as well as allegations of sexual harassment and improper behavior.
“The independent investigation has concluded that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple woman and in doing so violated federal and state law,” James said. “Specifically the investigation found that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous offensive comments.”
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.”
The governor has consistently denied the allegations made against him. Just last week, during a coronavirus briefing, Gov. Cuomo said New Yorkers would be “shocked” when the investigation was concluded and they could hear his side of the story.
Gov. Cuomo’s response
“This is a sad day for New York because independent investigators have concluded that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and, in doing so, broke the law,” James said. “I am grateful to all the women who came forward to tell their stories in painstaking detail, enabling investigators to get to the truth. No man — no matter how powerful — can be allowed to harass women or violate our human rights laws, period.”
Several women have accused Cuomo of unwanted kisses, touches and groping and inappropriate sexual remarks.
Former aide Lindsey Boylan said Cuomo once suggested a game of strip poker aboard his state-owned jet.
Another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo made sexual advances by making unwelcome comments, including asking if she ever had sex with older men.
The report also detailed, for the first time, allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed a female state trooper on his security detail. It said that the governor ran his hand or fingers across her stomach and her back, kissed her on the cheek, asked for her help in finding a girlfriend and asked why she didn’t wear a dress.
Investigators said they found all 11 women were credible, noting that their allegations were corroborated to varying degrees, including by other witnesses and contemporaneous text messages.
“These interviews and piece of evidence reveal a deeply disturbing, yet clear picture,” James said. “Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of both federal and state law.”
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.
The governor 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 investigators would be biased.
Attorney General’s press conference
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.
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.”
Cuomo, 63, was first elected as the 56th governor of New York in 2010 and is currently in his third term.
Last year the governor received an International Emmy award for his once-daily televised briefings on the coronavirus pandemic that killed tens of thousands of New Yorkers this spring.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who’s next in line to succeed Cuomo should he step down or be impeached, issued the following statement:
“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.
No one is above the law. Under the New York Constitution, the Assembly will now determine the next steps.
Because Lieutenant Governors stand next in the line of succession, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the process at this moment.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand renewed their call for Cuomo’s resignation in a joint statement Tuesday:
“As we have said before, the reported actions of the Governor were profoundly disturbing, inappropriate, and completely unacceptable. Today’s report from the New York State Attorney General substantiated and corroborated the allegations of the brave women who came forward to share their stories – and we commend the women for doing so.
The New York State Attorney General has conducted an independent, thorough and professional investigation that found the Governor violated state and federal law, had a pattern of sexually harassing current and former employees, retaliated against at least one of the accusers, and created a hostile work environment.
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.”
Congressman Joe Morelle (D-25):
“The findings presented today as part of the Attorney General’s sexual misconduct investigation further underscore the need for the Governor to step down. It remains clear that he cannot continue to effectively govern and provide the leadership our state needs during these unprecedented times.”
New York State Comptroller Tim DiNapoli:
“This is a sad day for New York. The Attorney General’s report documents unacceptable workplace behavior in the Executive Chamber at the highest level of state leadership. The women who came forward are courageous, and they have been heard. As I stated months ago, the Governor should step down.”
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello:
The Attorney General’s report confirms what we already knew from the compelling accounts of the many brave women who came forward. Governor Cuomo used his position of power to sexually harass and abuse women, and to create a toxic workplace environment that diminished and devalued dedicated public servants. I continue to believe the Governor must resign.
Monroe County Clerk Jamie Romeo:
“Almost 5 months ago, I called on Governor Cuomo to do the honorable thing and step down. In that time, the Governor has continued to attempt to intimidate accusers, minimize the impact of his own actions, and question efforts to provide a safe space for these women to be heard. Not only is this wrong, but it reinforces the challenges many women face in striving to be treated and heard as equals. With the Attorney General’s report corroborating these allegations today, Governor Cuomo must put the needs of the State first and resign. He has lost our trust and respect.”
State Assemblymember Harry Bronson (D-138):
“Let me start by thanking the courageous women who came forward to share their truths. The Attorney General’s investigative report has been released which substantiates and corroborates the sexual harassment complaints of numerous women. The report details sex-based harassment of current and former employees that includes unwanted groping, kissing, hugging and inappropriate comments of a sexual nature.
These findings are extremely disturbing and reflects a pattern of behavior that cannot be tolerated in any work setting but especially in public office. I stand by my original statement and again am calling on the Governor to resign immediately. He must put the families of New York first and step aside for the interest of all New Yorkers.“
State Sen. Samra Brouk (D-55):
As Attorney General Letitia James shared with us this morning, it is abundantly clear that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo committed horrifying abuses of his position, perpetuated a hostile work environment and sexually assaulted a number of current and former New York State employees.
I believed the governor’s accusers when they came forward this spring, and I believe the attorney general now. It takes bravery and strength to come forward as these women did, and I reiterate my call for Governor Cuomo to resign over his criminal conduct.
If the governor does not immediately resign, I call on the Assembly and its leadership — Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Assembly Judiciary Chair Charles Lavine — to initiate impeachment proceedings. The report is more than enough to justify such action and, in cases like this, there are always more women who do not feel safe enough or have the support necessary to come forward — we may never know the full account of Governor Cuomo’s crimes. This conduct has no place in any workplace, and certainly not in public service.
Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy, who served as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor:
“I am shocked and dismayed to learn the findings of the investigation led by Attorney General James, and I applaud the courage of the women who came forward to share their experiences. Speaking out about toxic work environments and sexual harassment is difficult under any circumstances, but even more so when such behaviors are carried out by a person in a position of power. ‘Intent’ does not matter. At issue is the impact of actions.
Everyone deserves a work environment free of harassment, retaliation, bullying, and fear. The responsibility of leaders is to establish a positive and safe work culture. It is unfortunate to see that this investigation concludes the opposite is true.
While it is not my role to speculate on the Governor’s political future, this comprehensive report provides a path forward for accountability and expectations of our leaders.”
Local Cuomo accuser and current Monroe County director Ana Liss thanked those who supported her on social media Tuesday following the attorney general’s press conference:
Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart (D-21) issued a short sentiment on social media regarding the report:
New York Sate Senate Leader Rob Ortt (R-62) also called again for the governor’s resignation in a statement Tuesday:
Attorney Debra Katz, who represents accuser Charlotte Bennet, released the following statement after James’ announcement Tuesday:
“The findings released today demonstrate what Charlotte Bennett stated publicly, at great personal cost, more than six months ago: Governor Cuomo sexually harassed her during her employment as his executive assistant and his enablers protected him and covered it up.
The Governor came on to Charlotte and made unwelcome sexual advances toward her in his personal office as New York endured the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The actions he took against Charlotte fit the very definition of sexual harassment under Executive Department policy, and, further, violated New York state law. He subjected Charlotte to sexual harassment, individually, and created a sexually hostile and toxic work environment for all women. Sadly, Charlotte was not the only extraordinary woman whose career in the Executive Department was cut short and derailed as a result of the Governor’s illegal behavior. The Governor’s actions have deprived New Yorkers of the professionalism, passion, and dedication to their state that Charlotte and the many others who refused to submit to his advances have to offer.
The Governor must resign immediately, along with his senior staff who protected and enabled him in violation of NY State law, to the detriment of the women he harassed. If he does not, the New York State Assembly must accept the Attorney General’s findings and begin taking the appropriate steps to remove him from office.”
Legal expert analysis
Attorney General’s full report
Attorney Rita Glavin released a response on the allegations made against Cuomo Tuesday:
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.