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Defiant Cuomo calls harassment accusations false, probe flawed

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday responded to

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday responded to New York Attorney General Letitia James' report that he sexually abused multiple women and he apologized to several of them, including former aide Charlotte Bennett. Credit: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Office

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo remained defiant Tuesday in the wake of a report accusing him of breaking multiple sexual harassment laws, calling the investigation flawed and the allegations false.

Even while the governor maintained his innocence, former allies were abandoning him in droves and the state Assembly was considering accelerating an impeachment process.

Cuomo, 63, was accused of harassing 11 women through inappropriate groping and touching and working to retaliate against accusers, in a report issued by Attorney General Letitia James.

The governor, in a videotaped message and a lengthy response by his lawyer, painted a completely different picture of what he called innocent encounters with women. He criticized those he said were "using this moment to score political points or seek publicity or public gain."

"First, I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances," Cuomo said in a statement released about an hour after the James’ news conference.

He specifically addressed only a few of the complaints and ignored a new one that came to light Tuesday in which a female state trooper — a member of his personal security detail — said he inappropriately touched her on more than one occasion, including running his hand from her belly button to her hip.

In perhaps the most high-profile accusation, Cuomo said he tried to act as a counsel and mentor to Charlotte Bennett, a former staffer, because she had been sexually assaulted in college. He said her story "resonated deeply with me" because one of his family members had been assaulted.

"I did ask her questions I don’t normally ask people," Cuomo said. "I did ask her how she was doing and how she was feeling. And I did ask questions to try to see if she had positive supportive dating relationships. … I thought I had learned enough and had enough personal experience to help. But I was wrong."

But he didn’t specifically address some of the most potentially damaging claims made by Bennett: That he asked her about her sex life, views on monogamy and if she was open to dating older men. Bennett, then 25, has said she felt Cuomo was "grooming" her for a sexual relationship — a view James’ investigators found credible.

Cuomo countered: "I have heard Charlotte and her lawyer and I understand what they are saying, but they read into comments that I made and draw inferences that I never meant. They ascribe motives I never had. And simply put, they heard things that I just didn't say."

He added: "Charlotte, I want you to know that I am truly and deeply sorry … I was trying to help — obviously, I didn’t."

Debra Katz, Bennett attorney, in a statement about the James report, said: "The governor came on to Charlotte and made unwelcome sexual advances toward her in his personal office as New York endured the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The actions he took against Charlotte fit the very definition of sexual harassment."

Bennett told CBS News Tuesday night that Cuomo is "trying to justify himself by making me out to be someone who can't tell the difference between sexual harassment and mentorship. We have a report. We have the facts. The governor broke federal and state law."

In a separate accusation, a staffer said the governor called her to the Executive Mansion under the guise of needing assistance, whereupon he groped her butt and breasts. The governor said this "never happened."

He suggested the woman was contemplating a civil lawsuit and said he looked forward to telling his side to a jury.

Rita Glavin, the attorney Cuomo hired to represent him in the investigation, issued a lengthy response posted on the governor’s website Tuesday afternoon.

In part of it, she gave a detailed schedule of all the meetings and phone calls the governor had on the November day the alleged groping occurred, with some updates as little as five minutes apart.

"The only interaction that the governor recalls having with Ms. X without others present bears no resemblance at all to her allegations," Glavin wrote, referring to the accuser whose named hasn’t been published.

In fact, Glavin contended, the only one-on-one conversation Cuomo had with the woman was when she told the governor she was getting divorced and needed a different work schedule to accommodate child care.

"During this conversation, the governor remembers Ms. X became visibly emotional," Glavin wrote, later claiming "investigators did little to nothing in terms of the documentary evidence that refutes Ms. X’s allegation of being groped."

Cuomo concluded his statement by saying he "will not be distracted" from his job and reminding viewers about the state’s ongoing efforts to contain COVID-19.

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