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AG's report finds Cuomo sexually harassed women, broke laws 

click to enlarge Gov. Andrew Cuomo. - PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE OFFICE OF GOV. ANDREW CUOMO
  • PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE OFFICE OF GOV. ANDREW CUOMO
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and his behavior broke state and federal laws, a report issued by the New York Attorney General’s Office found.

During a news conference Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James outlined the report with the attorneys her office hired to review the sexual harassment claims against Cuomo. The attorneys dug into those claims over the past five months, interviewing 179 people and reviewing more than 74,000 documents, emails, texts, and pictures.

"Gov. Cuomo's administration fostered a toxic workplace that enabled harassment and created a hostile work environment where staffers did not feel comfortable coming forward with complaints about sexual harassment due to a climate of fear and given the power dynamics," James said.

The report recounted and substantiated allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, both at the office and in public, made by 11 women, including a former State Police officer assigned to his protective detail.  That behavior included "unwanted and inappropriate groping, kissing, hugging," which Cuomo's accusers called humiliating, uncomfortable, offensive, or inappropriate, according to a news release from the Attorney General's Office.

In a 20 minute statement delivered Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo continued to deny the allegations against him. He instead blamed the allegations on misunderstandings due to cultural differences with younger generations and said the media was smearing him, that the accusations against him were politically motivated, and that women misinterpreted his statements as malicious.

“The facts are much different than what has been portrayed,” Cuomo said. “...First, I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”

Cuomo said that the women “ascribed motivations” to his actions that he did not have. He also said the findings do damage to “legitimate” survivors of sexual harassment, and emphasized the political motivation he believes is behind the allegations.

"Today we are living in a super-heated, if not toxic, political environment, that shouldn't be lost on anyone," Cuomo said. "Politics and bias are interwoven throughout every aspect of this situation. One would be naive to think otherwise."

A lengthy rebuttal from Cuomo's attorney, Rita Glavin, was released to reporters following the governor's news conference. It is available here.

Several Monroe County elected officials on Tuesday reiterated their calls for Cuomo to step down. They included Democrats such as County Executive Adam Bello, state Senator Samra Brouk, Assemblymember Harry Bronson, and House Rep. Joe Morelle,

"Almost 5 months ago, I called on Governor Cuomo to do the honorable thing and step down," Monroe County Clerk Jamie Romeo, a Democrat, said in a prepared statement. "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."

The controversies started in December when Lindsey Boylan, a former state economic development official, publicly accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, but didn’t provide details at the time.

Two months later, Boylan detailed her experience with Cuomo, saying the three-term governor acted inappropriately around her.  including asking her if she’d like to play strip poker. Eventually Cuomo kissed Boylan in his office without her consent.

Boylan’s account prompted several other women to come forward with claims against the governor, including current and former staffers.

Charlotte Bennett, who worked in Cuomo’s office, claimed he asked her several inappropriate questions at work, including whether she was monogamous, and if she’d ever had sex with older men. At the time, Cuomo was more than twice Bennett’s age.

After those two accounts, several other women began to come forward with claims against the governor, including an unnamed victim that claimed Cuomo groped her beneath her shirt at the Executive Mansion in Albany.

According to the Times Union, who exclusively spoke to the woman, she was sent to the mansion under the guise that Cuomo needed help with his phone.
Other women who’ve made claims against the governor have said he kissed them without their consent, made inappropriate remarks to them, and more. One of them was Ana Liss, Monroe County's director of planning and economic development and a policy and operations aide to Cuomo from 2013 to 2015.

Liss told the attorneys leading the investigation that Cuomo addressed her almost exclusively as "sweetheart" or "darling,"  and that on occasion he kissed her on the cheeks and hand, touched and held her hands, and slid his hand around her lower waist. He also asked whether she had a boyfriend.

The report stated that Liss felt the actions were inappropriate but that she didn't make any complaints about the behavior because of the office's environment.

“[F]or whatever reason, in his office the rules were different," Liss told investigators, according to the report. "It was just, you should view it as a compliment if the Governor finds you aesthetically pleasing enough, if he finds you interesting enough to ask questions like that. And so even though it was strange and uncomfortable and technically not permissible in a typical workplace environment, I was in this mindset that it was the twilight zone and . . . the typical rules did not apply.”

The claims prompted both the attorney general’s investigation, as well as a tearful apology from Cuomo in early March, when he addressed them head-on during a virtual press conference.

“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said at the time. “It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it and frankly, I'm embarrassed by it, and that's not easy to say but that's the truth.”

He said at the time that he’d “never touched anyone inappropriately.”
Cuomo's attitude toward the probe changed a few months later when he shifted the tone of his response to one of regret, then changed tact again by claiming that the report wouldn’t be independent.

That’s partly because of who the attorney general’s office hired to conduct the probe. James agreed to bring in a pair of attorneys from private practice to lead the investigation as a way to separate her office — and politics — from the inquiry.

One of those attorneys is Joon Kim, who worked under former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara — who famously led an investigation into Joseph Percoco, one of Cuomo’s top, and longest-serving, aides. Percoco was ultimately convicted.

The other attorney who led the investigation was Anne Clark from the firm of Vladeck, Raskin & Clark. She specializes in employment and discrimination law.

As the investigation progressed, Cuomo had begun to question the integrity of the probe, namely because of Kim’s involvement, but also because of alleged leaks to reporters on the status of the investigation.

During a press conference in July, Cuomo said he didn’t think the investigation would be truly independent.

“I have concerns as to the independence of the reviewers,” Cuomo said. “Is this all happening in a political system? Yes, that is undeniable.”

On Cuomo’s part, he’s retained a team of his own attorneys to represent him as part of the investigation. It’s unclear what Cuomo’s strategy will be now that the report has been made public.
At the same time, the State Assembly is leading its own investigation into Cuomo to decide whether he should be removed from office.

That investigation includes the claims of sexual harassment made against Cuomo, but has also branched out to include inquiries into the state’s handling of nursing homes during COVID-19, allegations that state employees were used to work on Cuomo’s book last year, and more.

It’s unclear if the attorney general’s report will be a catalyst for the Assembly’s investigation, prompting impeachment, or not. James made clear that her office is done with the investigation and has no plan to pursue criminal charges or civil action against Cuomo, though she also said that her office will cooperate with the Assembly Judiciary Committee's investigation and provide it with the report and all relevant evidence.

Dan Clark is host and producer at New York NOW.

Jeremy Moule, CITY's news editor, contributed to this report. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

Gino Fanelli, a CITY staff writer, contributed to this report. He can be reached at gino@rochester-citynews.com.


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