Cuomo allies exposed for helping to discredit accuser

Roberta Kaplan speaks onstage at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit 2018 at Ritz Carlton Hotel on October 2, 2018 in Laguna Niguel, California. Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Fortune/TNS

Two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s leading influential allies sustained political fallout Monday for allegedly helping the governor and his administration attempt to discredit one of the 11 women who accused him of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Roberta Kaplan was forced to resign Monday as board chair of Time’s Up — a group dedicated to supporting victims of sexual misconduct — after she helped draft a letter to question the motives and credibility of Lindsey Boylan, according to the attorney general’s report. Boylan, a former economic adviser of Cuomo’s, was the first to publicly accuse him of sexual predatory behavior last December.

“We’re holding ourselves accountable,” according to a statement from Time’s Up posted on the foundation’s website Monday. “The events of the last week have made it clear that our process should be evaluated and we intend to do just that.”

Kaplan, a prominent New York attorney, co-founded the group’s legal defense fund in 2018 in wake of the -MeToo movement.

Kaplan has provided counsel in the past to advise Cuomo’s administration and his top aides. She gave a thumbs-up to circulating the letter publicly as long as a few adjustments were made, according to investigators.

Other aides and counsel dissuaded the Executive Chamber from disseminating the letter, and it was never sent.

Time’s Up President Tina Tchen said Kaplan’s departure was appropriate and also called for an ongoing endeavor to hold the group accountable.

“In the meantime, we are working with our team on how we show up in this next phase of the work and will be enlisting engagement from survivors, allies and critics alike,” according to the organization. “We do not ask for a pass. We ask for perspective.”

Cuomo’s attorneys continue to push back on several findings in state Attorney General Letitia James’s office’s report and its conclusions Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women with unwelcome hugs and kisses, surprising touches or gropes and increasingly suggestive sexual comments, breaking state and federal laws.

Alphonso David, Cuomo’s former counsel, also came under fire Monday for his role in assisting with the letter that attempted to smear Boylan. David refused to add his name to the letter, but agreed to help find advocates and political leaders to sign it late last year, according to the attorney general’s report.

The Human Rights Campaign and its foundation, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group, launched an internal investigation in David on Monday after his alleged involvement in attempts to question Boylan’s accountability.

Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson, who chair the campaign’s board, said Monday an outside, independent law firm will handle the internal probe.

“Over the past several days, HRC’s employees, supporters, board members and partners have raised questions about the appropriateness of Alphonso David’s actions and whether they align with HRC’s decades’ long mission of fighting for equality and justice for all,” Patterson and Cox said in a joint statement.

David’s involvement in the letter is highly concerning, they added.

A representative at Kaplan’s Manhattan law office declined to comment.

Monday’s announcements came hours after Secretary to the Governor Melissa De Rosa stepped down from her role in the Executive Chamber late Sunday night.

De Rosa, who served as the state’s most powerful nonelected official, tried to find information to discredit Boylan and other accusers and assisted with early drafts of the letter intended to tarnish her reputation. De Rosa also helped send confidential personnel files to reporters and helped protect the governor from compromising situations with other women, according to James’s investigators.

De Rosa’s resignation was made public several hours before Brittany Commisso went public in an interview with CBS and the Times Union that first aired Monday about her accusations Gov. Cuomo slipped his hand beneath her blouse and cupped her breast during a hug in the Governor’s Mansion last November. Commisso, 32, continues to work for the Executive Chamber and is identified as “Executive Assistant No. 1” in the attorney general’s report.

“I was afraid that if I had to come forward and revealed my name, that the governor and his enablers, I like to call them, would viciously attack me, would smear my name, as I had seen and heard them do before to people,” she said.

Cuomo and his attorneys continue to purport Commisso’s claims are false.

“I know that, obviously, the governor has to say something to defend himself,” Commisso said. “And if that’s what he feels like … he needs to say and that’s what he believes, then I’m sorry. Because I know the truth. … I lived it. And why would I make something like that up? I would have nothing to gain from that. … It doesn’t make any sense. But all I know is that he knows what he did to me.”

Albany County sheriff’s investigators are leading a probe into the incident after Commisso filed a report Thursday.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee leading the Legislature’s impeachment probe into the governor referred Cuomo’s attorneys’ criticisms of the report to James’s office during an update about the investigation Monday.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, and Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine, D-Glen Cove, announced the impeachment probe involving four of Cuomo’s scandals will likely wrap up by the end of the month and conclude with public hearings. The date of the hearings was not set Monday.

The seven women who make up the state’s Sexual Harassment Working Group and are former government employees and survivors of sexual harassment and assault, were outraged by the leaders’ inaction Monday.

Articles of impeachment should be issued immediately, according to the group, because the attorney general’s report contains enough evidence proving Cuomo violated laws and leads a toxic work environment in the Executive Chamber. Cuomo could inflict harm on additional state employees by remaining in office while the Assembly probe wraps up, the members added.

“Today, the New York State Assembly showed just how unwilling it is to meet the moment,” according to a statement from the organization Monday afternoon. “Now that the need for Cuomo’s removal from office is so painfully necessary, organizing a series of public hearings is just another tactic to delay the Assembly’s responsibility of initiating the impeachment process.

“The Assembly’s insistence that other investigations must conclude before moving forward with impeachment indicates more than just a willingness to tolerate sexual harassment and the most powerful elected official in New York violating state and federal law. It is once again sending the message that sexual harassment alone is not a disqualifying offense for public office while continuing to compromise staff safety.”

“...Workers are at-risk and New York is watching.”

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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