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Testimony details Cuomo aides' effort to discredit accusers

Melissa DeRosa, secretary to former Gov. Andrew M.

Melissa DeRosa, secretary to former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, listens as he speaks to reporters during a news conference on June 23 in New York. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

ALBANY — Newly released documents reveal the lengths the Cuomo administration went to try to discredit the women who accused the former governor of sexual harassment, control the investigation and blame it on a cabal of progressives.

Thousands of pages of interviews and electronic communications and video interviews were released Monday by Attorney General Letitia James, who oversaw the investigation that led to Andrew M. Cuomo resigning as governor Aug. 24. It was the second tranche of evidence released by James since Cuomo stepped down.

Among the details that emerged Monday:

  • Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor and his top adviser, approved the administration’s leaking of one former staffer’s personnel records to certain news outlets.
  • DeRosa believed a crew of progressive Democrats, including Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Pelham) and New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams were working with the liberal Working Families Party and one of the accusers to "take down the governor."
  • A former press staffer testified under oath that DeRosa had on occasion asked her to say things to reporters she knew weren’t truthful.
  • Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor, was more heavily involved in helping his brother combat the allegations from multiple women than previously disclosed. He regularly spoke with his brother, exchanged emails and texts with Cuomo staffers and worked to find out the timing of pending news stories and whether more women were going to come forward.

Andrew Cuomo resigned to avoid a likely impeachment trial after James released a report Aug. 3 concluding he sexually harassed multiple women — including some on his staff.

Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing and called the investigations politically motivated; his spokesman frequently has noted James’ candidacy for governor.

"Today’s manipulated release of hand-picked witness testimony with selective redactions is typical," said Rich Azzopardi, spokesman for the former governor. Referring to Congressman Tom Suozzi’s entry into the governor’s race, Azzopardi said of James: "It is also no coincidence that she decided to release select transcripts minutes before one of her rivals declared for governor."

Many of the most important details in the harassment probe emerged earlier this month when James released transcripts from interviews with Cuomo, some of the accusers and other state officials.

But there were new disclosures in the second wave of materials.

DeRosa denied she had a romantic or intimate relationship with Andrew Cuomo but said she was constantly hearing and battling rumors to that effect.

DeRosa acknowledged she authorized Cuomo press officials to release personnel material about Lindsey Boylan, one of the governor’s accusers. She also said she briefly considered "planting" a story about Boylan’s potential campaign finance violations — Boylan had considered running for Congress and eventually ran for Manhattan borough president — but dropped the idea after realizing no violation was apparent.

More than once in her interview, DeRosa said she believed complaints were being hyped by progressive critics of Cuomo, a centrist Democrat.

She asked staff to research campaign donors and consultants and any connections to the political left.

"I asked for Alessandra Biaggi, Boylan, the WFP and Jumaane Williams because I believe they are all working together," DeRosa testified.

"Working together in what sense?" the investigator asked.

"To take down the governor," DeRosa replied.

"And so what did you glean from getting this report?"

"Nothing."

"Was there anything in this report that supported your view that they were coordinating?"

"No."

When the allegations broke, the Cuomo administration tried to get James to agree to oversee a joint investigation with New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, a Cuomo appointee. DeRosa testified James originally agreed but her staff nixed the idea, insisting the attorney general should have sole power to appoint investigators.

Abbey Collins, a former Cuomo campaign spokeswoman, testified she was asked to call one of the accusers to try to glean information by asking leading questions. But the conversation was stunted and didn’t go far.

However, in the course of her interview, lawyers asked Collins if there were times when DeRosa told her to say things to a reporter she knew weren’t true.

"I would say, yes, but I can't recall the specifics," said Collins, who was called "state staffer #6" in the transcript. But she said she refused to do so.

Chris Cuomo’s role as an unofficial adviser to his brother had been disclosed previously. But not in such detail.

According to documents, Cuomo tried to use sources in the media world to find out information on some of the accusers and the timing of pending stories. He debated responses with Cuomo’s advisers and even suggested language for a full statement by his brother in March.

About that time, DeRosa asked Cuomo for more help.

"Rumor going around from politico 1-2 more ppl coming out tomorrow. Can u check your sources?" DeRosa text.

Chris Cuomo replied: "On it."

With Michael Gormley

State & Region