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Assembly report: 'Overwhelming evidence' of Cuomo misconduct

Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a press

Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a press conference at the Lenox Road Baptist Church in Brooklyn on July 10. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

ALBANY — A new investigation released Monday found "overwhelming evidence" that former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo engaged in sexual harassment on multiple occasions and used state resources and staff to help him write, publish and promote his pandemic memoir, a project that landed him a $5 million book deal.

The report also found that Cuomo's staff "substantially revised" a state report to exclude deaths of nursing home residents at hospitals to protect Cuomo’s reputation. It also said the ex-governor ordered a state Health Department report — and made edits to it — to try to combat criticism of his COVID-19 policies.

The findings of the probe were released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee eight months after it was launched to weigh impeaching Cuomo, a Democrat, because of accusations involving sexual harassment, the lucrative book deal and nursing home policies.

In its report, the Assembly supported the findings of an earlier investigation overseen by Attorney General Letitia James, released on Aug. 3, that concluded Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women.

Cuomo resigned Aug. 24, avoiding a likely impeachment trial. The Assembly said it no longer had the authority to start impeachment proceedings but called the governor's conduct "disturbing."

"The former governor’s conduct — as shown in this report — is extremely disturbing and is indicative of someone who is not fit for office," said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), Assembly Judiciary chairman, in a statement.

A spokesman for Cuomo called the investigation "flawed," disputed the harassment allegations, said staffers "volunteered" to work on the ex-governor's book and alleged the harassment allegations were based on James' "bogus" investigation.

Rich Azzopardi, spokesman for the former governor, complained that due process was violated because Cuomo didn't get the chance to review the Assembly's evidence — even though the Assembly report noted Cuomo and multiple key staffers wouldn't cooperate with its investigators.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head), told Newsday he believes the ex-governor violated state law in using state resources to produce his book.

"In my opinion, there are several violations of the Public Officers Law that could result in fines and return of money" on the book deal, Montesano said. In a joint statement, Montesano and the five other Republicans on the committee said the report "confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that the former governor's behavior was inexcusable, irresponsible and impeachable."

"It’s just deeply disturbing," Assemb. Phil Steck (D-Colonie), another committee member, said. "There is this whole sense that the normal rules apply to everyone else and there are a different set for Cuomo and his staffers."

Cuomo’s spokespeople have insisted the top aides volunteered their time to work on the book and didn’t work on state-paid time. But Steck noted the report uses official logs of staff time and other data to conclude some of Cuomo’s senior staff edited the book on state time.

"There wasn’t enough time in the day for them to be volunteering," Steck said.

Cuomo continually has denied any wrongdoing. He has said he never touched anyone inappropriately — including denying an allegation that he groped an aide at the Executive Mansion last year, a claim that is now subject to a criminal complaint in Albany County.

He has said staff volunteered to help him with the book and defended his tally of nursing home deaths because of COVID-19 as part of an effort to be sure about the data.

"To be clear, the people who volunteered to work on the book were people mentioned in the book and therefore they were involved to make sure the representations concerning them were accurate," Azzopardi said in a statement. "Staff who volunteered took time off, evidencing that they were volunteering and not on state time. Any suggestion to the contrary is Assembly hype."

Rita Glavin, Cuomo's attorney, later added: "The Assembly’s report simply parrots the Attorney General's flawed report, failing to engage with the many errors and omissions in the AG’s report and her one-sided, biased investigation."

Last week, Glavin demanded that Assembly investigators turn over all their evidence before filing a report. But the committee said Cuomo wasn't entitled to it.

"In the face of an impeachment trial, the former Governor chose to resign, not to contest the available evidence and confront witnesses in that legal forum. Having foregone that opportunity, he is not entitled to the production of any further evidence from this committee," the report said.

Lavine said the committee's investigators conducted more than 200 interviews and reviewed "approximately 600,000 pages of documents, including photographs, text messages, BlackBerry PIN messages, emails, policies and procedures, recordings of phone calls, social media accounts, materials from prior litigations, video recordings, interview memos, transcripts, and other relevant materials."

Regarding Cuomo’s book, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic," the Assembly said "evidence obtained demonstrates that senior officials, and the former governor, worked on the book during the course of normal work routines. One senior state official referred to work on the book as no different from any other assignment he received from the Executive Chamber during COVID."

Cuomo "senior officials" met with agents and publishers, transcribed and drafted portions of the book, coordinated in promotions and helped with 24 hours of recording sessions in September 2020 to produce an audio version of the book, the report found.

They were also diligent about checking sales totals, the committee said: "Subsequently, the senior Executive Chamber official repeatedly sought updates regarding the book’s presales and expressed frustration when figures were not delivered promptly, ultimately asking to be sent the numbers 'every day.'"

The ex-governor initially had received clearance from a state ethics committee to write the book but was told he couldn’t use state resources or personnel to do so. The committee’s approval has since been rescinded.

Montesano said investigators found no "intentional wrongful acts" regarding the undercounting of nursing home deaths because of COVID-19 but said the administration chose to count deaths of thousands of nursing home residents as residents of hospitals to which they had been transferred before dying. Cuomo had acknowledged the practice at the time but had steadfastly refused to produce an overall tally of nursing home patients until James' report in January said the death total was nearly 50% higher than the administration acknowledged.

But the report did find Cuomo ordered his Health Department to produce a report defending his nursing home policies, especially a directive that said nursing homes must accept COVID-19 patients transferred from hospitals.

"Throughout the drafting process, the former governor reviewed and edited the draft DOH report on multiple occasions, and made edits to strengthen the defense of the March 25 directive," the Assembly report said.

The committee did say its investigation "did not uncover evidence" that the controversial directive "increased the number of COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes." Further, it didn’t find evidence to contradict a Health Department finding that COVID-19 was "likely introduced into nursing homes by infected staff."

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