What to Know
- New York’s attorney general has completed its investigation into allegations of wrongdoing made against Gov. Andrew Cuomo
- A former acting U.S. Attorney and an attorney who specializes in employment law led the independent investigation
- Their sprawling investigation lasted many months, covering alleged verbal harassment of lawmakers and alleged sexual harassment of staffers
New York Attorney General Letitia James and the team of attorneys selected to investigate allegations of sexual harassment made against Gov. Andrew Cuomo have completed their investigation and released a public report of their findings.
The attorney general’s report, which is being made available to the public for the first time, found that the harassment claimed by a number of the governor’s accusers is in violation of state and federal law.
The governor “sexually harassed current and former new york state employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a sexual suggestive nature that created a hostile work environment for women,” the attorney general stated.
James said the 165-page report on the investigation details the inner-workings of the governor’s office, his harassment of multiple women, including an effort in at least one instance to retaliate against one of those women, and details what is described as a toxic work environment in and around the governor’s chambers.
The report states that 11 women were sexually harassed including state employees and a New York State Trooper assigned to the unit to protect the governor. The investigators spoke to 179 individuals, including the governor’s accusers, current and formers members of the Executive Chamber, troopers and other state employees.
“These interviews and pieces of evidence revealed a deeply disturbing yet clear picture: Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees, federal and state laws,” James said.
Findings indicate that Governor Cuomo violated federal and state laws.
The lead investigators, Joon Kim and Anne Clark, elaborated on key findings of their five-month probe. The attorneys explain the report outlines the pattern of behavior where Cuomo “engaged in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging and making inappropriate comments.”
The independent investigation is civil, not criminal, the attorney general reiterated on Tuesday. But the “unlawful, sex-based harassment” and retaliation detailed in the report is now public and available to prosecutors and police departments should either review the findings and determine that criminal charges are warranted.
“Our investigation has also found that the Executive Chamber responded to allegations of sexual harassment in ways that violated their own internal policies and also constituted unlawful retaliation with respect to one of the complainants,” Kim said. “Based on our investigation, we concluded that the Executive Chamber workplace culture — rife with bullying, fear and intimidation — on the one hand while normalizing frequent flirtations and gender-based comments by the governor on the other, created the conditions that allowed the sexual harassment and retaliation to occur and to persist.”
Democrats in the state renewed their calls for the governor to step down following the attorney general’s announcement. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the “gut-wrenching” findings in the report “would indicate someone who is not fit for office.”
The investigation into whether or not there were public funds or resources used to help write Cuomo’s book or sell it has not yet concluded and is ongoing as part of a separate investigation, the attorney general announced.
Allegations of sexual harassment by the governor were made public in February by former Cuomo aides Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennette, weeks after Attorney General James released a scathing report saying the state may have undercounted COVID-related nursing home deaths by thousands.
The compounding claims of wrongdoing were met with intense public pressure for an independent probe into the governor, who eventually granted the power to James after initially selecting a judge who had distant ties to Cuomo. He has repeatedly denied allegations of wrongdoing.
The attorney general’s probe was initially focused on the claims of sexual harassment by a couple of former staffers. Over time though, the investigation ballooned to include allegations from more than half a dozen women and reports from dozens of current and former staffers of mistreatment while working in Albany.
James selected former acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne L. Clark to lead the office’s investigations.
The investigatory team had subpoena power to examine relevant documents, records, and data relating to the case and conduct interviews and formal depositions. They were instructed to give weekly reports to the state attorney general and produce a written final report of their findings, now released to the public.
Additionally, their probe looked into whether Cuomo had members of his family get prioritized, special access to COVID testing during the early stages of the pandemic last year, and potential misuse of state resources to produce and promote his published book covering the COVID-19 pandemic; the latter investigation made at the request of State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
The probe is not a criminal one, but the report released by the attorney general could significantly influence the state legislature’s impeachment inquiry.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has named two prosecutors that will partake in the investigation into Gov. Cuomo’s behavior as he faces continued pressure to step down, Jonathan Dienst reports
In late July, the governor publicly questioned the neutrality of both Kim and Clark at a press conference. Cuomo said he had “concerns as to the independence of the reviewers,” without providing any further details to support his comments.
The chair of the New York Assembly’s judiciary committee, Charles Lavine, wrote a letter to Cuomo warning his office to stop disparaging the investigators. At the time, Cuomo’s spokesperson, Rich Azzopardi, had been implying on social media that James’ investigation was motivated by a desire to run for governor.
Around the same time, Cuomo had been scheduled to meet with the team of investigators in Albany as the probe moved into its fifth month. A number of the governor’s accusers have also given sworn depositions to the investigators.
Cuomo himself had appointed a special prosecutor in 2018 to explore allegations that former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, abused four women during what were supposed to be romantic encounters. The special prosecutor ultimately didn’t bring any charges. In a twist of fate, Cuomo at the time called on Schneiderman to resign over the public allegations of assault.
Cuomo championed a landmark 2019 state law that made it easier for sexual harassment victims to prove their case in court. Alleged victims no longer have to meet the high bar of proving sexual harassment is “severe and pervasive.”
Meanwhile, New York state regulations say sexual harassment includes unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature — from unwanted flirtation to sexual jokes — that creates an offensive work environment, regardless of a perpetrator’s intent.
Accusations range from groping under a woman’s shirt and planting unwanted kisses, to asking unwelcome personal questions about sex and dating — including whether an employee would have sex with an older man.
A former aide to the governor, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo quizzed her about her sex life, asked if she felt age made a difference in relationships and said he was fine dating “anyone above the age of 22.” Bennett said she believed he was gauging her interest in an affair. Cuomo has denied making advances on Bennett.
Bennett’s allegations came only a few days after former senior staffer Lindsey Boylan published an explosive blog post in which she alleged the governor invited her to play strip poker during a flight, among other alleged sexual advances. On one occasion in 2016, she claimed that Cuomo blocked her exit from a room and kissed her.
In addition to sexual harassment claims from Boylan and Bennett, a former executive assistant and health policy adviser, Anna Ruch, said the governor touched the small of her exposed back and asked if he could kiss her within moments of meeting at a wedding in 2019.
A photo from the event shows Cuomo with his hands around Ruch’s face. She said he made her feel “uncomfortable and embarrassed” when he asked to kiss her.
Less than a week after Ruch came forward, two former aides, one from his time as HUD Secretary and one from the governor’s office, accused Cuomo of inappropriate physical contact, bringing the number of harassment accusations against him to five. Cuomo’s office dismissed reports of a “toxic culture” on his team, saying he demands excellence from his staff.
And then, on March 9, one day after James appointed the two attorneys to the independent investigation, came one of the most serious accusations made against the governor from a current aide. The unnamed staffer accused Cuomo of groping her at the governor’s mansion in 2020.
The unnamed staffer called it a frightening physical encounter in which the governor slammed a door and said “I don’t care” when she warned someone might see what he was doing. She said that Cuomo had been inappropriately hugging and flirting with her for years, grooming her with tight hugs and kisses on the cheek, but said this particular incident went even further. The governor reached under her blouse and his hand was grasping one of her breasts over her bra, according to the woman.
Cuomo said the details of her story are “gut-wrenching” and denied the allegation, saying “I have never done anything like this.”
The governor has repeatedly and vehemently denied many of the allegations but offered a rare apology months ago to anyone who interpreted his actions as “unwanted flirtation.” Despite calls for the three-term governor to step down by nearly every elected Democrat in New York from all levels of government, Cuomo remained adamant that he will not resign.
Cuomo has increasingly argued that politics is the main driver of criticism against him, and has questioned the motives of accusers.
Attention turned to President Joe Biden to weigh in on the allegations following comments from other top Democrats in Washington. In March, Biden said that Cuomo should resign if the attorney general’s investigation confirmed allegations of sexual harassment made against him.
“The facts will come out” in the attorney general’s investigation, Cuomo said when questioned by the press at the arrival of each new allegation of sexual harassment, reiterating his position that he “never knew at the time” that he was making anyone feel uncomfortable.
Another woman – this time a current aide in the Governor’s Mansion – has accused him of sexual harassment. Andrew Siff reports.
Cuomo Under Fire
In addition to those claims, Cuomo also faces allegations of verbal abuse and threats by a lawmaker as well as a federal probe into how his administration handled COVID nursing home deaths.
Queens assemblyman Ron Kim said he’d been harassed and threatened by the governor, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said publicly that being threatened by Cuomo was “classic” behavior for him, federal prosecutors launched an investigation into how the Cuomo administration handled COVID in nursing homes. Cuomo’s spokespeople have denied any wrongdoing in that specific instance, or in general with the handling of nursing homes.
As a result of the flurry of scandals, New York legislators voted to strip the governor of his pandemic-linked emergency powers and return matters like lockdowns to local control.
It has been a stunning reversal of fortune for Cuomo, who months ago was so popular that he was seen as a top candidate for attorney general in the Biden administration, and was considered a frontrunner for the Democrats’ nomination for president in 2024.
As the first allegations of sexual harassment came to light at the start of 2021, Cuomo tried to press on and project normalcy amid the scandals. Ultimately, he struggled to keep his head above water after his daily coronavirus press briefings were overwhelmed by questions into his alleged wrongdoing. For weeks, Cuomo retreated from what had become regular on-camera press conferences he had become universally recognized for during the height of the pandemic’s grip on New York; even earning him an Emmy award months later.
“Sometimes, God comes and he knocks you on your rear end for one reason or another, or life comes and knocks you on your rear end for one reason or another,” Cuomo said in a March 15 comment that was intended to reference the state’s situation but could also apply to his personal troubles. ”The question is what you do when you get knocked on your rear end. And New Yorkers get up, and they get up stronger, and they learn the lesson.”
Another legal team — hired by the state Assembly for an impeachment inquiry — is investigating the women’s claims, as well as the cover-up of COVID death data on nursing home residents by Cuomo aides.
Federal prosecutors are also investigating the governor, in part over his administration’s months-long decision to keep nursing home COVID-19 data secret.