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AG report: Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women; governor responds to probe

NY Attorney General Letitia James released her office's

NY Attorney General Letitia James released her office's report stating Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women. The governor responded, amid calls from other lawmakers for his resignation. Newsday's Faith Jessie reports. Credit: Newsday Studio; Howard Schnapp; File Footage; NY Attorney General Letitia James' Office; Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Office; Photo Credit: JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo violated state and federal laws by sexually harassing multiple women, including current and former staffers, fostered a toxic work environment and tried to retaliate against accusers, according to an investigation that put the third-term Democrat's tenure in jeopardy.

The findings, released Tuesday by State Attorney General Letitia James, renewed widespread calls for the governor to resign — including from President Joe Biden, a longtime Cuomo ally.

It also sparked an emergency afternoon meeting of state Assembly leaders who emerged saying they will accelerate an ongoing impeachment inquiry and reach a conclusion "as quickly as possible."

Further, the Albany County district attorney said his office was conducting an "ongoing criminal investigation" related to Cuomo's conduct.

What to know

  • A report by investigators concluded that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo violated state and federal laws by sexually harassing multiple women and fostered a toxic work environment.

  • The findings renewed widespread calls for the governor to resign — including from President Joe Biden, a longtime Cuomo ally.

  • Cuomo remained defiant, rejecting the findings and denying the allegations. He said some of the conduct described in the report never happened and contended some of his words and gestures were misinterpreted.

Cuomo remained defiant, rejecting the findings and denying the allegations. In a video released about an hour after James' news conference, Cuomo said some of the groping conduct described in the report never happened, contended some of his words and gestures were misinterpreted, and criticized people he said are "using this moment to score political points or seek publicity or personal gain."

The swirl of seismic political developments began when James issued a long-awaited 165-page report that concluded Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women — including a state trooper assigned to the governor's personal security detail. In doing so, Cuomo violated multiple state and federal laws, James said.

The governor’s conduct included unwanted groping, kissing and hugging younger women and making inappropriate comments, according to the report.

He enabled a "toxic" workplace that enabled the harassment to occur and engaged in retaliation against at least one accuser by releasing her personnel records and pitching damaging stories to news outlets, the report said. The governor’s conduct also violated his administration’s own anti-harassment policies, the report said.

The evidence "revealed a deeply disturbing yet clear picture" about the governor’s conduct, James said.

"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 believe women, and I believe these 11 women," she said.

James noted the five-month probe was conducted under civil — not criminal — jurisdiction and it would be up to local prosecutors to decide whether any charges were warranted.

Whereas Cuomo staved off calls for his resignation earlier this year by maintaining allies, none came to his defense Tuesday.

"I think he should resign," Biden said when asked about Cuomo at a separate briefing.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), who previously stood out among New York leaders in not calling for the governor's resignation, said Cuomo now should leave.

"It is abundantly clear to me that the governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office," Heastie said after a nearly three-hour meeting with his legislative colleagues in which no one voiced support for the governor. "Once we receive all relevant documents and evidence from the attorney general, we will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible."

The Assembly impeachment committee isn't slated to meet until Monday.

James said investigators talked to 179 individuals, as well as examining documents, texts, photographs, emails and audio files. The report included two previously unreported harassment allegations. One came from a woman who worked for an energy company who said the governor ran his fingers across her chest at a press event.

The other came from a female state trooper in Cuomo’s personal security detail who said the governor touched her inappropriately more than once, including running his hand from her belly button to her hip.

The investigators detailed what they called clear harassment and retaliation — which included secretly recording phone conversations of staffers the administration thought would help rebut claims and bringing in former high-ranking Cuomo officials to pitch ideas on how to discredit an accuser.

Joon Kim, one of the attorneys hired by James to conduct the probe, said Cuomo’s conduct "clearly meets, and far exceeds" the legal standard used to determine workplace harassment.

"It was a culture where you could not say no to the governor and if you upset him or his senior staff you would be written off, cast aside or worse," Kim said. "But at the same time the witnesses described a culture that normalized and overlooked everyday flirtations, physical intimacy and inappropriate comments by the governor."

Separately, Albany County District Attorney David Soares said he has requested materials from James' report but would not comment further on what he called an "ongoing criminal investigation," which pointed to the alleged groping incident at the governor's mansion.

"We are conducting our own separate investigation … We will be done expeditiously," Soares said.

Assembly sources said that although there was strong support for bringing impeachment charges, other steps needed to occur first. The impeachment committee, led by Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), needs to issue findings and recommendations before the full house could vote on charges.

Cuomo described what he called innocent encounters with women, in stark contrast to James’ report.

"The facts are much different from what has been portrayed," Cuomo said. "I never touched anybody inappropriately … or made inappropriate sexual advances."

The findings come at the end of a five-month probe by James’ investigators that rocked the New York political world, launched a separate impeachment inquiry and imperiled the future of the third-term governor, who is engulfed in multiple investigations beyond sexual harassment.

Many Democrats and Republicans stepped up their demands for Cuomo’s resignation — including New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Even Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul appeared to be abandoning the governor, saying that the report "documented repulsive and unlawful behavior" by Cuomo and that "no one is above the law."

But the Buffalo Democrat stopped short of calling for his resignation.

"Under the New York Constitution, the Assembly will now determine the next steps," Hochul said. "Because Lieutenant Governors stand next in the line of succession, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the process at this moment."

The sexual harassment inquiry began after a number of former and current administration staff members accused Cuomo of making unwanted sexual advances. At least one woman has alleged the governor groped her. Another has said the 63-year-old governor attempted to groom her for a sexual relationship.

The harassment allegations were the spark that led to the investigation by the attorney general’s office and the commencement of the Assembly impeachment inquiry — imperiling the future of the third-term governor.

The probes have widened beyond sexual harassment.

Investigators are looking also at the undercounting of nursing home deaths amid the pandemic, Cuomo’s $5.1 million deal for a pandemic memoir, priority access to COVID-19 testing for Cuomo family members and other influential people, and allegations about Cuomo’s "vaccine czar" possibly pressuring county leaders to support the embattled governor while holding out access to the vaccine.

Separately, the U.S. Justice Department has been investigating the nursing home matter.

Cuomo allies have called the allegations false and politically motivated.

The sexual harassment claims became public in December. Former aide Lindsey Boylan accused Cuomo of harassing her routinely and trying to kiss her, and said he once suggested a game of strip poker aboard his state-owned jet.

After Boylan went public, Charlotte Bennett, another former aide, said Cuomo made sexual overtures and once asked her if she ever had sex with older men. She has said she believes the governor was "grooming" her to have a sexual relationship.

Another current aide, who has remained anonymous, told a newspaper Cuomo contrived to have her come to the governor’s mansion alone, allegedly to help him with his mobile phone. Once she was there, she said he groped her.

Cuomo staff called Boylan’s accounts "simply false."

Cuomo said he "never made advances" toward Bennett, that he meant to act as a mentor and he didn’t intend to act "in any way that was inappropriate."

Publicly, the governor changed his tone in talking about the allegations that were first leveled in March, going from a choked-up general apology to defiantly declaring he’s done nothing wrong — all while subtly suggesting the investigation shouldn’t necessarily be the last word.

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