Long Islanders react to the recent allegations against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — accusations of sexual harassment by two former aides and the withholding of nursing home data. Newsday's Faith Jessie has the story.  Credit: Kendall Rodriguez; Gov. Office; Photo Credit: Mike Wren; Charles Eckert; Johannes Eisele

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is fighting for his political life, facing accusations of sexual harassment by several former aides and calls for his resignation, even from some of his fellow Democrats.

Under heavy pressure, Cuomo gave up on his attempt to name an investigator and instead formally provided state Attorney General Letitia James with the authority initially to investigate allegations of two former aides.

On Wednesday, Cuomo made his first public appearance since the allegations went public. He apologized but said he wouldn’t resign.

Since James took over, more women have come forward.

Late Saturday night, a former press aide, Karen Hinton, told The Washington Post that the then-HUD secretary called her to his hotel room in 2000, embraced her and when she backed away he pulled her back toward his body before she left the room. Also late Saturday night, another former aide, Ana Liss, told The Wall Street Journal that Cuomo asked her if she had a boyfriend, touched her back and once kissed her hand.

The Cuomo administration denied Hinton's account and said of Liss' account: "reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures," the papers reported.

Here’s a look at how we got here and what we know about the deepest political crisis Cuomo has faced in his three terms as governor.

Kim's bullying accusation

Assemb. Ron Kim, D-Queens, speaks during a press briefing at the...

Assemb. Ron Kim, D-Queens, speaks during a press briefing at the state Capitol in Albany on June 8, 2020. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

It wasn’t about sexual harassment, but many people in New York political circles said that when Assemb. Ron Kim (D-Flushing) went public to talk about a phone call in which Cuomo threatened to "destroy" him if the legislator didn't retract his criticism of the governor, it spurred more people to come forward with complaints about Cuomo’s "bullying style."

Kim had been one of the most vocal legislative critics of Cuomo's nursing home policies and said the governor possibly could be charged with obstruction of justice for withholding data on nursing home deaths amid a federal probe.

Kim got national media attention and Cuomo responded by lashing out at him in a news conference, alleging corrupt behavior on the unrelated issue of nail salon regulations and campaign contributions. A Cuomo aide also denied the governor used the word "destroy."

Cuomo’s public rant angered many of the other 212 state legislators, weakening his support prior to what was to come.

Harassment allegation

Lindsey Boylan, left, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Battery...

Lindsey Boylan, left, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Battery Park in Manhattan on Jan. 21, 2018. Credit: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomor - Kevin P. Coughlin/Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

In a Twitter post in December, Lindsey Boylan, a former economic development aide, made general claims about Cuomo sexually harassing her. On Feb. 24, she wrote an essay online that Cuomo said to her "let’s play strip poker" while they and others were on government aircraft from Western New York in 2017. She said she made a sarcastic reply to "play it cool."

She said he kissed her on the lips in 2018 in Cuomo’s Manhattan office after she gave him a one-on-one briefing about economic projects.

Boylan said Kim’s public stand encouraged her to write more specifically about her allegations.

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

A 2nd allegation

Charlotte Bennett, 25, a former aide to Gov. Andrew M....

Charlotte Bennett, 25, a former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo who has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against him, poses for a photo in Warren, Vermont, Feb. 27. Credit: Elizabeth Frantz

Charlotte Bennett, another ex-aide, tweeted about Boylan’s essay when it went online and wrote: "For those wondering what it’s like to work for the Cuomo admin, read @LindseyBoylan’s story."

Days later in a New York Times interview, the 25-year-old Bennett said the 63-year-old governor asked her numerous questions about her sex life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships. She also said Cuomo told her he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.

Bennett, who left the administration in November, said she’d viewed Cuomo’s actions as sexual overtures. She had informed other administration officials of the issue — and lawmakers now are saying it's possible the administration didn't follow Cuomo's own regulations for handling allegations.

She went further in a CBS interview.

Bennett said she was working alone with the governor one day in June, taking dictation when he told her to turn off the recorder and he told her he was lonely and looking for a girlfriend. She said she felt uncomfortable and thought "I had to get out of this room as soon as possible."

She told a friend she was "terrified."

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."

The governor also said he would ask a retired federal judge — with ties to one of his confidants — to investigate. It didn't go over well.

Demands for an independent probe

New York State Attorney General Letitia James takes a question...

New York State Attorney General Letitia James takes a question at a news conference on Aug. 6, 2020. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

Democrats, Republicans and activists all flatly rejected Cuomo’s idea to review the matter. They demanded he formally refer the matter to Attorney General Letitia James, an action that would give her office subpoena power. James’ office didn’t have legal authority to take the case without a referral.

Cuomo balked and offered a second proposal: Have James and New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore — whom Cuomo appointed — lead a review. Without subpoena power.

It was rejected just as quickly and arguably prompted a harsher reaction: Legislators raised the idea of impeaching Cuomo if he refused to give up control to James.

After nearly 24 hours of political drama, Cuomo relented and handed the case to James, who would have broad authority, even to compel the governor's testimony. Cuomo said he'd fully cooperate.

Another allegation

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during...

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during an interview on CBS Evening News with Norah O'Donnell. Credit: Adam Verdugo/CBS News

Bennett on Monday afternoon issued a statement saying Cuomo’s attempts to control the investigation showed he "refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior."

Hours later that day, the Times published an interview with Anna Ruch, who said Cuomo, at a wedding, touched her bare back, cupped her face with his hands and tried to kiss her, unsolicited. She said she turned away and he kissed her cheek.

A photo accompanying the story — showing the governor’s hands around her face — went viral.

Ruch was not an ex-aide. But the wedding was that of one of Cuomo’s top aides, Gareth Rhodes, a member of the governor’s pandemic task force and a presence at the administration’s televised briefings. On Twitter, Rhodes’ wife supported Ruch. Rhodes left the task force to return to another administration job. Cuomo officials said the move happened before the story came out, though sources told Newsday he left in protest because of the sexual harassment allegations.

When the Ruch story broke, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) became the highest-profile Democrat to call for the governor’s resignation.

"The time has come. The governor must resign," Rice, who headed a select Moreland Commission for Cuomo once, wrote on Twitter.

Jay Jacobs, the state and Nassau County Democratic chairman, urged his fellow Democrats to not form an opinion until James completes her investigation.

The apology

In this image taken from video from the Office of...

In this image taken from video from the Office of the NY Governor, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, in Albany. Credit: AP

After avoiding the airwaves for a week, Cuomo held a news conference Wednesday in Albany — his first public appearance since the allegations broke.

He apologized but said he wouldn’t resign.

"I now understand I acted in a way that made some people feel uncomfortable and it was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize," the governor said, his voice catching at times.

Responding to a reporter’s question, Cuomo said later: "I’m not going to resign. I work for the people of the State of New York. They elected me and I’m going to serve."

It’s not yet clear how the apology went over with the general public. But it fell flat with Bennett’s attorney, who called it "full of falsehoods and misinformation," and Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Pelham), who said the governor thinks "he can erase his abusive behavior by saying I’m sorry."

Other scandals heighten the pressure

What makes this a precarious time for Cuomo is the harassment claims aren’t the only turmoil he’s facing.

Further, taken together, they have eroded his support not only in public opinion polls, but also among the Democratic friends he needs to survive politically.

The Kim incident has spurred stories about the "Cuomo style," tales of bullying and a hostile workplace.

On the pandemic front, James’ issued a report last month saying the administration might have undercounted deaths of nursing home patients due to COVID-19 by as much as 50%. The administration, which had been sitting on the data for months, released information just hours after James’ report, which showed the undercount was indeed at least 40%.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into the matter.

The outcry mushroomed after Cuomo officials admitted making changes to a report in July that reduce the number of nursing home deaths. The administration contended changes were made because the data wasn't accurate.

And state legislators approved a bill to curtail the extraordinary powers they granted Cuomo at the beginning of the pandemic — powers that had given him control over almost every major state-government decision for the last 12 months.

On Sunday, Cuomo was delivered what some called a crippling defection: Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said the governor "must resign."

She cited not only the harassment allegations but also all the "loss of credibility" surrounding nursing homes and other controversies. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) stopped just short of calling for resignation, but questioned whether Cuomo still be effective in office.

Cuomo said there was "no way" he was resigning.

Republican legislators have begun circulated an "impeachment resolution," citing the harassment allegations and the administration’s admissions about withholding nursing home data. The GOP accounts for less than one-third of the Legislature, but members are trying to encourage their Democratic colleagues to join.

"What more do legislators need to see before we form an impeachment commission to begin investigations into Gov. Cuomo?" Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) said Thursday.

In addition, GOP congressional members are openly pondering a run for governor, especially Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Tom Reed (R-Corning).

An investigation commences

On Monday, March 8, James announced the selection of two high-powered lawyers to lead the investigation: Anne L. Clark, an employment discrimination lawyer, and Joon H. Kim, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Kim was top deputy to Preet Bharara, when he led several high-profile New York corruption probes. When Bharara was fired by then-President Donald Trump in 2017, Kim led the office in an acting capacity for 10 months, until Trump replaced him.

Kim said of the Cuomo investigation: "These are serious allegations that demand a rigorous and impartial investigation. We will act judiciously and follow the facts wherever they lead."

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