AG’s office: Cuomo harassed multiple women, violated laws

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in New York on Oct. 5, 2020. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Office

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, violating state and federal law, and harbored a workplace environment that was toxic and abusive, according to a report by the state attorney general’s office released Tuesday.

Cuomo engaged at least 11 women, including former and current state employees, in unwanted groping, kissing, hugging and made inappropriate sexual comments, state Attorney General Letitia James said. The report confirmed the allegations of one current staffer who said the governor grabbed her breast during a hug in the Governor’s Mansion last year.

Investigators independently corroborated the accusations of at least 11 women, interviewing 179 witnesses and reviewing more than 74,000 pieces of evidence such as documents, emails, texts, pictures and audio files over a five-month probe.

“I believe women, and I believe these 11 women,” James said Tuesday morning at a press conference in Manhattan.

The governor sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, including a state trooper assigned to his personal security detail, according to the 168-page report.

The extensive evidence is included in the public report, published by former federal prosecutor Joon Kim and Anne Clark, a prominent employment lawyer, who James, a Democrat, tasked to lead the investigation March 8.

“The governor, on many occasions, engaged in sex-based harassing conduct and conversation,” Clark said.

Clark detailed the Nov. 16, 2020, account of a current female staffer, that Gov. Cuomo groped the woman’s breast during a hug. The governor hugged the staffer closely on numerous occasions, pressing her breasts against him and ran his hands up and down her back, according to the report.

The staffer’s name has not been publicized. She is referred to as Executive Assistant No. 1 in the report.

Cuomo blatantly denied the allegations Tuesday afternoon.

“Let me be clear: That never happened,” Cuomo said in a pre-recorded response that aired at 1 p.m. Tuesday. “She wants anonymity. Her lawyer has suggested she file a legal claim for damages. Trial by newspaper or biased reviews are not the way to find the facts in this matter. I welcome the opportunity for a full and fair review before a judge and a jury because this just did not happen.”

The report details how Gov. Cuomo requested a young female state trooper be assigned to his personal security detail, or PSU, in 2018.

The governor repeatedly inappropriately touched the woman, referred to as Trooper No. 1 in the report. One day, the governor ran his finger from her neck down her spine and said “Hey you,” when they were alone in a Capitol elevator.

Cuomo also ran his open hand across the trooper’s stomach to her hip where she keeps her gun, which was corroborated by another trooper who witnessed the altercation, according to the report.

Executive Assistant No. 1 testified the governor regularly commented on her appearance and her clothing, and that she “looked good for [her] age and [for] being a mother.” The assistant is in her early 30s.

Several of the women each said the governor routinely kissed them on the cheek, and abruptly kissed them on the lips on at least one occasion.

The governor denied he kissed any women on the lips during his testimony. Cuomo also testified that he did regularly hug Executive Assistant No. 1 and described her as “an affectionate person” and “a hugger” who was the “initiator of the hugs,” while he was “more in the reciprocal business,” according to the report.

The governor also often had discussions with women staffers about feeling lonely and wanting to be touched, age differences in sexual partners and asked personal questions about their marital status, personal life and relationships. He repeatedly asked Executive Assistant No. 1 about her views about monogamy and remaining faithful to her husband.

Another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo asked if she was interested in older men and told her he was open to dating women in their 20s. Cuomo asked Bennett, a survivor of sexual assault, about the details of her past trauma.

Cuomo also discussed looking for a girlfriend after his 14-year relationship with TV cooking star Sandra Lee ended in September 2019 with Bennett and Trooper No. 1.

The governor cited criteria for the girlfriend as being someone who “can handle pain,” according to the report.

Cuomo has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and in recent weeks has taken to openly questioning the integrity of investigators running the probe.

“...and for those who are using this moment to score political points or seek publicity or political gain, they disgrace the sexual harassment victims the law was designed to protect,” he said Tuesday.

Cuomo answered questions under oath during an 11-hour interview with investigators July 17.

The governor denied the most serious allegations by offering “blanket denials” or that he had a “lack of recollection as to specific incidents,” according to the report.

Investigators also found Cuomo’s recollection “stood in stark contrast to the strength, specificity, and corroboration of the complainants’ recollections, as well as the reports of many other individuals who offered observations and experiences of the governor’s conduct,” according to the report.

The Executive Chamber filed a report with the Albany Police Department about the woman staffer whose breast Gov. Cuomo groped inside the Governor’s Mansion last year, Clark said.

James’s office has concluded its civil investigation into claims of sexual harassment against the governor. The attorney general’s office oversaw a civil investigation without criminal charges or consequences.

“All the information is fully documented, and any prosecutors or police departments can review the evidence and determine if they want to take further action,” Clark said.

The governor’s top aides and staffers in the Executive Chamber took actions to retaliate against former employees who publicized their experiences of sexual harassment involving Cuomo, according to the report.

Former Cuomo staffer Lindsey Boylan was the first woman to come forward with allegations on Twitter, and then a detailed blog post in December, accusing the governor of kissing her on the lips after a meeting in his office and saying he “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.”

The attorney general’s report found that after Boylan first tweeted out her allegations in December, the Cuomo administration sought to undermine her account by releasing personnel memos.

Boylan has said those records “were leaked to the media in an effort to smear me.”

“These interviews and pieces of evidence reveal a deeply disturbing, yet clear picture Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women ... and Gov. Cuomo’s administration created a hostile work environment where staffers did not feel comfortable coming forward with complaints due to a climate of fear and due to power dynamics,” James said Tuesday.

Democrats in the Assembly’s majority convened about the report and the conference’s next steps at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

James’s office does not coordinate with the state Assembly and is not involved with the chamber’s impeachment investigation. The attorney general’s office distributed the public report to members of the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon at the chamber’s request.

“We have provided the Assembly Judiciary Committee with the report that was released today and we will provide them with all relevant evidence,” James said Tuesday afternoon. “We will cooperate with their investigation as needed.”

The state attorney general’s office continues to investigate other scandals involving Gov. Cuomo, including COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and his potential use of state resources to publish his $5.1 million pandemic memoir last fall.

The separate probes remain ongoing, and do not intersect, nor interfere with the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s impeachment probe, James said.

Cuomo referred the sexual harassment allegations and related investigation to the state attorney general’s office March 1 after a few days of back-and-forth. The governor relinquished the probe to James’s office, per executive law, after pushback from legislative leaders and making his own legal recommendations about who should oversee the investigation.

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