Nearly one week after the state attorney general’s office released a damning report accusing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexually harassing multiple women, he resigned Tuesday, after a number of high-profile resignations surrounding the report, including that of his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, who has helped lead the retaliation campaign against his accusers.
The 165-page report by the New York Attorney General’s Office concluded that Cuomo “sexually harassed a number of current and former New York State employees by, among other things, engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching, as well as making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.”
“I believe women, and I believe these 11 women,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James last Tuesday during a press conference about her office’s findings. Earlier that same day, Cuomo maintained his innocence during an excruciating speech of his own, alleging that “politics and bias are interwoven” in the accusations against him. He characterized himself as an ally of survivors of sexual violence, not a perpetrator of it, and even suggested that his affections were merely cultural. But Cuomo can’t rely on the “old Italian man” defense anymore: He is now under criminal investigation and, according to the New York Times, may face several lawsuits.
In February, Lindsay Boylan, a former official in the Cuomo administration, went public with her accusations against Cuomo, accusing him of harassing her multiple times from 2016; she says Cuomo kissed her, touched her waist, and once even suggested they play strip poker. Cuomo’s office retaliated against Boylan and actively tried to discredit her. After Boylan came forward, Charlotte Bennett, Cuomo’s former executive assistant, accused the governor of making countless sexually charged comments, in person and via text message. For example, according to the report, “after [Bennett] told [Cuomo] that she was considering getting a tattoo for her birthday, [he said] that if she decided to get a tattoo, she should get it on her butt, where it could not be seen” and Cuomo asked “whether she had any piercings other than her ears.” When Bennett reported these interactions to the Governor’s Chief of Staff, she was simply moved to a different position. Meanwhile, a new unwritten rule was implemented: No female staffers were to be left alone with Governor Cuomo.
These are just two of 11 individuals who were included in the state attorney general’s report.
Over the last several months, publicized accusations against Cuomo were met with abject denial and aggression by Governor Cuomo and his allies. Those allies included assorted local politicians as well as Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer who helped Cuomo discredit his accusers. Kaplan also happened to be the chairwoman of Time’s Up, an organization dedicated to fighting sexual abuse; she resigned from her post on Monday after an open letter to the Time’s Up board from survivors was posted on Medium. Following Kaplan’s resignation, the Human Rights Campaign said it would investigate Alphonso David, president of the organization and close Cuomo ally, for the role he played in “helping” Cuomo “respond to accusations of sexual harassment.” (David responded to the HRC’s announcement saying he “fully endorse[s]” the investigation.)
In a Medium post published Monday entitled “It’s not ‘our’ truth. It’s the truth,” Lindsey Boylan wrote that, following the Attorney General’s report, she is “personally devastated by the accounts of the Governor’s widespread harassment, the scope of the retaliation campaign he waged against me and the efforts by his minions to protect him at all costs.” She continued:
I intend to sue the Governor and others who were involved in these efforts to smear me.
Too many people have been harmed or had their careers destroyed after reporting harassment. Retaliation is unacceptable in any workplace. It revictimizes those who have suffered abuse and it deters people from coming forward.
The investigation also shines a light on a system that protects the predator. The culture of secrecy and fear that forced victims of the Governor’s repeated harassment to remain silent allowed the abuse to go unchecked.
The NY State Assembly’s judiciary committee gathered on Monday to begin impeachment proceedings. After spending the last year and a half portraying himself as a covid-19 savior—America’s Governor, even—Cuomo is teetering on a tower of shit of his own making. After failing to keep his thoughts (and hands, and mouth) to himself, he is finally facing a political and legal price.
Update, 8/10/21, 12:09 p.m.: Just after noon on Tuesday, Governor Cuomo announced that he would be “stepping aside” from his role in office. In a press conference, he denied the accusations of sexual harassment but acknowledged that he had been “too familiar” with people. He also brought up his daughters, saying “I want them to know from the bottom of my heart that I never did and I never would intentionally disrespect a woman... Your dad made mistakes, and he apologized, and learned from it. And that’s what life is all about.”
Update, 8/10/21, 12:24 p.m.: After Cuomo leaves office in 14 days—yes, he put in his two weeks—the New York Times confirms that Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will take his place, becoming New York State’s first woman governor; the Times also confirms that Hochul and Cuomo have not spoken to one another since February. In today’s press conference, Cuomo called her “smart and competent.” Also from the Times:
Their relationship, then and now, has been largely transactional. They rarely appear in public together, with Ms. Hochul fulfilling her role as his surrogate around the state in countless radio interviews, panel discussions and ribbon cuttings.
The tenor of that alliance began to change in late winter, when the sexual harassment allegations against the governor began to multiply, and Ms. Hochul sought to distance herself from Mr. Cuomo. In a rare break from the governor, she welcomed the news that the attorney general, Letitia James, had hired outside lawyers to conduct an investigation of the governor.
Update, 8/10/21, 3:50 p.m.: Not long before Cuomo’s resignation Tuesday, the New Yorker published an exposé shedding further light on the sexual harassment allegations and overall culture in the soon-to-be-former governor’s office. Among other things, author Ronan Farrow alleges that Cuomo “repeatedly interfered in another state probe that threatened him, the Moreland Commission,” which investigated political corruption; called Valerie Jarrett when she was part of the Obama administration to rail against former US Attorney General for NY’s Southern District Preet Bharara; intimidated the Moreland Commission investigation chief Danya Perry and once “told her about his flagging sex life with his long-term girlfriend, which prompted Perry to change the subject”; and otherwise systemically attempted to block the Moreland Commission’s progress when it threatened Cuomo or his political allies.
Some examples of the latter accusation, as cited by Farrow:
An attorney for Cuomo told her that she had to “get in line” or Cuomo would “scorch the ends of the earth to destroy me,” Perry recalled. “Don’t fight this,” the attorney said, according to Perry’s notes. “This will all be easier once your spirit is broken.” (The attorney said that he could not recall the exchanges and that Cuomo had been supportive of the commission.) In a text in September, Perry wrote to Cohen, “I feel like I am in a snake pit, and don’t know which way to turn . . . this is honestly one of the hardest things I have been through.”
Additionally, Kathleen Rice, a U.S. Representative from Long Island, described her interactions with Cuomo to the New Yorker as follows:
Rice said that Cuomo continued to pressure her during the preparation of the preliminary report and afterward. She likened the heated arguments she had with Cuomo to “physical assaults, even though they were verbal.”
Meanwhile, Perry said she “spent years piecing her life back together.” The New Yorker also reports that after the sexual assault allegations emerged against Cuomo in March, he and his allies began spreading rumors about Joon Kim, who had worked with Bharara and was tasked with working on the independent investigation into the accusations.
Ken Sunshine, a longtime public-relations executive and Cuomo confidant, later spoke with an editor at the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column, conveying rumors in political circles that Kim was trying to unseat Cuomo so that Bharara could run for governor. Sunshine, who was not employed by Cuomo, learned of the Governor’s desire to spread the rumor from a member of the Governor’s team. Bharara said that he has no plans to run for office. “He was deliberately planting lies about me and lies about other people,” Bharara said.
Read the full New Yorker piece here.
Update, 8/10/21, 4:36 p.m.: Newsweek reports that Susan Iannucci, a 61-year-old woman from White Plains who was featured in Cuomo’s infamous slideshow during which he defended himself against sexual harassment allegations, was “humiliated and embarrassed” that a photograph of him kissing her on the cheek was included, and that the kiss was not consensual. In a press conference with attorney Gloria Allred, Iannucci said:
“I am being put in a position where I feel like I’m being used by Governor Cuomo to push a narrative that his habit of invading people’s personal space is justified. I am appalled to be in a position where I feel like I am being used in this manner.”
“I do not condone his actions toward any of the women who have come forward, and I do not appreciate being made to look as if do. I believe the governor’s actions toward myself and others to be wrong, despite how he has chosen to utilize my image,” she added.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.