UPDATED, with details of Chris Cuomo’s testimony: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women in violation of federal and state law, and also retaliated against a former employee who went public with her complaints, the state’s attorney general said on Tuesday.
“The independent investigation found that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging and by making inappropriate comments,” James said. “Further, the governor and his senior team took actions to retaliate against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story, her truth.”
After the allegations surfaced earlier this year, the governor’s referred the matter to James’ office for an investigation, and she launched an inquiry that included the appointment of outside investigators.
“Governor Cuomo’s administration fostered a toxic workplace that enabled harassment and created a hostile work environment where staffers did not feel comfortable coming forward with complaints about sexual harassment due to a climate of fear, and given the power dynamics,” James said.
Cuomo has refused calls to resign coming from some of the top Democrats from his state, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). President Joe Biden also said that Cuomo should resign if the allegations were true. Cuomo apologized for “acting in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” but he denied engaging in inappropriate behavior.
James’ announcement drew coverage across major cable news networks, including CNN. Cuomo’s brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, who in March said that he would not cover the story “because he is my brother,” a situation that produces an obvious conflict of interest. Chris Cuomo later apologized after it was revealed that he participated in strategy sessions with the governor and staffers to talk about how to respond to the harassment claims.
According to the report, the CNN host was interviewed as part of the investigation. He was among those who counseled the governor to show contrition after one of his accusers, Charlotte Bennett, his former executive assistant and health policy adviser, came forward with her allegations, including in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell.
“During his testimony, Chris Cuomo explained that there was discussion about remedial measures the Chamber [governor’s office] should take in light of the sexual harassment allegations, but some people had taken the position that ‘they should just wait,'” according to the report. Included was an email from Chris Cuomo from Feb. 28 that appeared to be a suggested statement that his brother should make.
Do not overlook the Cuomo report appendix, which includes Charlotte Bennett's texts about her Cuomo interactions and this email from Chris Cuomo appearing to draft a statement for his brother https://t.co/uN17cZRbNJ pic.twitter.com/etUCrQbWTX
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) August 3, 2021
The report concluded that it was “revealing and consistent with the Executive Chamber’s overall approach that, when faced with allegations of sexual harassment brought against the Governor, the inner circle of confidantes brought in to control and direct the response included a number of individuals with no official role in the Executive Chamber.”
The 165-page investigative report lays out in great detail the allegations of harassment and retaliation. It also is much more damning in establishing a pattern of conduct. “Our investigation revealed that the Governor’s sexually harassing behavior was not limited to members of his own staff, but extended to other State employees, including a State Trooper on his protective detail and members of the public,” the authors wrote.
Cuomo’s administration also is facing a federal investigation into whether it covered up the true extent of nursing home deaths last year due to Covid, as the governor was being hailed as a media star for his daily coronavirus briefings as the country went into lockdown. The briefings even earned him an International Emmy award.
The report starts with a rundown of allegations from 11 accusers, starting with Cuomo’s executive assistant, with a recounting of inappropriate comments and behavior, including close and intimate hugs and grabbing her butt.
“These offensive interactions, among others, culminated in an incident at the Executive Mansion in November 2020 when the Governor, during another close hug with Executive Assistant #1, reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast,” the report stated. The woman kept the incident to herself until she watched Cuomo’s March 3 press conference in which he said that he “never touched anyone inappropriately.”
The state trooper, a woman, experienced unwanted kissing and groping, as well as inappropriate comments. In one incident, according to the report, he ran “his finger down her back, from the top of her neck down her spine to the middle of her back, saying ‘hey, you,’ while she was standing in front of him in an elevator.” The trooper had been moved to the governor’s security detail at his request, after they met briefly at an event in 2017, even though she did not meet the minimum service requirement.
Cuomo was reportedly interviewed for 11 hours as part of the investigation, and “did not dispute that he sometimes commented on staff members’ appearance and attire (although generally only to compliment), and stated that, being “old fashioned,” he sometimes used terms of endearment such as ‘honey,’ ‘darling,’ or ‘sweetheart.’ He also did not dispute that he gave regular hugs and kisses on the cheek and forehead. But he did dispute the way in which those actions had been interpreted by the complainants,” according to the report. Cuomo, though, suggested that the allegations were politically motivated or the result of animosity against him. He also expressed the view that the investigation itself was politically motivated.
“Where the Governor made specific denials of conduct that the complainants recalled clearly, as discussed in greater detail below in the factual findings, we found his denials to lack credibility and to be inconsistent with the weight of the evidence obtained during our investigation,” the report concluded. “We also found the Governor’s denials and explanations around specific allegations to be contrived.” The investigation found that in contrast to Cuomo’s blanket denials and lack of recollection of certain events, accusers recounted their experiences with specificity.
Although James said that Cuomo violated the law, she said that the matter was civil in nature, not criminal.
Cuomo was first elected governor in 2010, succeeding David Paterson, who took office after the resignation of Eliot Spitzer after the revelation that he regularly hired prostitutes. Cuomo was reelected in 2014 and 2018.
The governor also faces an investigation by the State Assembly, which could start impeachment proceedings against him. If Cuomo were to resign or be removed from office, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would serve out the remainder of his term through 2023.