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AG's report claims toxic, abusive workplace protected Cuomo

New York Attorney General Letitia James announces the

New York Attorney General Letitia James announces the findings of her office's investigation that found that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple current and former staff members on Aug. 3. Credit: JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

ALBANY — Attorney General Letitia James’ report released Tuesday said a toxic, bullying culture that protected Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo allowed him to sexually harass several women for years.

"The alleged sex-based harassment by the governor did not occur in a vacuum," the report continued. "The allegations of women who have worked in the executive chamber cannot be understood or assessed without the context of the overall workplace culture. Over the course of our investigation, most witnesses not in the governor’s inner circle provided a consistent narrative as to the office culture of the executive chamber, describing it as ‘toxic’ and full of bullying-type behavior, where unflinching loyalty to the governor and his senior staff was highly valued."

"This culture of fear, intimidation and retribution coexisted in the executive chamber with one that accepted and normalized everyday flirtations and gender-based comments by the governor," the report said. As one witness put it, "He makes all this inappropriate and creepy behavior normal, and like you should not complain."

Cuomo responded that he runs a demanding office critical to New Yorkers, but that the accusations are distorted, politically motivated and sexist.

"I have always said my office is a demanding place to work," Cuomo said. "It is not for everyone. We work really, really hard … the stakes we deal with are very high, sometimes even life and death. We have to get the job done."

He accused witnesses in the report of using a double standard to criticize his top women administrators and the way they foster the work environment. "A strong male manager is respected and rewarded; a strong female manager is ridiculed and villainized," Cuomo said. "It is sexist."

Cuomo attorney Rita Glavin said that the governor’s staff is held to high expectations and that Cuomo tries to ease the pressure with informal banter and treating close staff members as family. She also noted women hold the most senior jobs.

The investigators, however, found in questioning current and former employees in the executive chamber that there was a "pattern and culture of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation that appeared to not only to be condoned, but expected and even promoted as an effective management technique." Some witnesses described Cuomo as "vindictive."

"I was scared even to see him in the hallway," said one of the accusers, Charlotte Bennett. "I was just terrified … I feel like I sat next to senior staff as they worked and I have no concept of how far they’d go to protect him and didn’t want to find out."

The report said there was also a common understanding that "disagreements with the governor and the senior staff could, and did, result in severe, negative consequences" and that there is an "intense and overriding focus on secrecy and loyalty" to benefit Cuomo.

One example cited in the report referred to top staffers. including top aide Melissa DeRosa. They are required by a law championed by Cuomo and under the executive chamber’s own policies "to report inappropriate conduct within the executive chamber." Yet no investigation was begun into the first allegations Lindsey Boylan made on Twitter in December 2020, the report stated.

"Our investigation indicated that potential misconduct was, at best, investigated internally within the executive chamber," the report stated.

Investigators also said past and current top aides were enlisted to retaliate against the accusers, in actions Cuomo staffers said was intended to provide a more accurate picture of why most of the women left their jobs. The report said senior adviser Rich Azzopardi released confidential employee records to reporters.

"Ms. DeRosa made the decision to disclose the confidential files on December 13, the day Ms. Boylan tweeted that the governor had sexually harassed her, because Ms. Boylan’s tweets had gotten ‘more and more escalating’ and the group’s view was that they had ‘made a mistake by not doing something earlier,’ " the report said.

A witness identified as executive assistant No. 1 said the governor groped her breast, but she found even that behavior hard to report.

"Who am I going to tell? My supervisor was Stephanie Benton … the governor’s right-hand person and if I told her I was going to be asked to go somewhere else or transferred to (another) agency," said executive assistant No. 1. "And the sad part of this whole thing, I actually like my job. I was proud to work."

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