By Terrance Turner
Aug. 3, 2021 (updated Aug. 10)
BREAKING: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is resigning. Cuomo’s resignation will be effective in 14 days. His lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, will become the first female governor of New York State.
“Government really needs to function today. Government needs to perform. It is a matter of life and death, government operations,” Cuomo said today from his office in Manhattan. “I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing. And therefore that’s what I’m gonna do.”
The resignation comes after a wave of scandals: a coverup of nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 dogged Cuomo for months. Mr. Cuomo was criticized over a state requirement that forced nursing homes to take back residents who had been hospitalized with Covid-19 once they recovered. The New York Attorney General later found that Cuomo had undercounted nursing homes deaths by as much as 50%. His senior aides altered a report to conceal the true figure, according to the New York Times.
But the undoing of the governor came via a serial pattern of sexual harassment. Last week, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report from an independent investigation into harassment allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The report found that Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and retaliated against at least one who went public.
“The independent investigation found that Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, some of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging, and by making inappropriate comments,” James said today. “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.”
“The investigators found that Gov. Cuomo’s actions and those of the executive chamber violated multiple state and federal laws, as well as the executive chamber’s own written policies. This investigations has revealed conduct that corrodes the very fabric and character of our state government,” James continued.
The investigators James referred to are Joon H. Kim, a former acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Anne L. Clark, who has extensive experience in employment law issues. They were hired in March, according to the New York Times. Together, they have compiled a damning report about Cuomo’s actions as governor.
The 165-page report details a pattern of behavior that “created a hostile work environment for women,” according to the executive summary. The report also concludes that Cuomo’s behavior was not limited to staffer but extended to state employees, including a New York State Trooper. Further, it charges that the Executive Chamber’s culture was rife with fear and intimidation.
The summary reveals that since late 2019, Cuomo engaged in inappropriate behavior with an “Executive Assistant #1”. That included a) close and intimate hugs, b) kisses on the cheek, forehand and even lips, and c) touching/grabbing her butt during hugs. Also alleged are d) comments and jokes about her personal life, asking if she had or would cheat on her husband and asking her to help him find a girlfriend.
Those interactions culminated in an incident at the Executive Mansion in Nov. 2020, when the governor, after another close hug, “reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast”. The anonymous staffer became emotional when she heard Cuomo claim on March 3, 2021 that he never touched anyone inappropriately. She reported the behavior to the staffer’s colleagues, who in turn reported int to the Executive Chamber.
In early Nov. 2017, Gov. Cuomo met a female State Trooper at an event on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. He then spoke with a member of his security detail (“Senior Investigator #1”) about having the trooper join the Protective Services Unit (PSU), which is a unit of the New York State Police responsible for protecting Gov. Cuomo. The trooper was later hired, despite not meeting requirements. (One must have at least three years of New York State Police service before becoming part of the PSU, the report says.)
Once hired, the trooper was sexually harassed by Gov. Cuomo on a number of occasions, including his running his hand from her navel to her right hip while she held a door open for him, running his hands down her back, and kissing her on the cheek in an elevator in front of another trooper. He also made suggestive comments: asking her to help him find a girlfriend, asking why she would get married when “your sex drive goes down”, and asking why she didn’t wear a dress.
“Trooper #1 found these interactions with the Governor not only offensive and uncomfortable, but markedly different from the way the Governor interacted with members of the PSU who were men, and she conveyed these incidents contemporaneously to colleagues. Several other PSU Troopers corroborated Trooper #1’s allegations,” the report reveals.
An aide named Charlotte Bennett was also subjected to inappropriate comments. Cuomo allegedly told her he would be willing to date women as young as 22 years old, knowing that she was 25 at the time. Other comments including asking if she’d been with older men, saying during the pandemic that he was “lonely” and “wanted to be touched”, and asking if Bennett was monogamous. “These comments by the Governor—as evidenced contemporaneously in numerous text exchanges Ms. Bennett had with others—followed and coincided with
discussions she previously had with the Governor about her having been a survivor of
sexual assault and made her extremely uncomfortable,” the report says.
Bennett was so uncomfortable that “following a series of exchanges with the Governor in June 2020, Ms. Bennett reported the interactions to the Governor’s Chief of Staff. While the
Executive Chamber moved Ms. Bennett to a different position where she would not need to interact with the Governor in response to Ms. Bennett’s allegations, the Executive Chamber did not report the allegations at the time to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (“GOER”), the State agency tasked with conducting harassment investigations for State agencies, and did not otherwise conduct any formal investigation. Instead, the Executive Chamber’s senior staff sought to implement a practice,” the report says, “whereby individual staff members who were women were not to be left alone with the Governor.”
Another woman subjected to this treatment was Lindsey Boylan. “During the period in which Lindsey Boylan served as Chief of Staff to the CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation (“ESD”) and later as Deputy Secretary for Economic Development and Special Advisor to the Governor, the Governor, among other things, engaged in the following harassing conduct on the basis of her gender:
(1) commented on her appearance and attractiveness, including comparing her to a former girlfriend and describing her as attractive; (2) paid attention to her in a way that led her supervisor at ESD to say that the Governor had a “crush” on her and to ask her whether she needed help in dealing with the Governor’s conduct; (3) physically touched her on various parts of her body, including her waist, legs, and back; (4) made inappropriate comments, including saying to her once on a plane, words to the effect of, “let’s play strip poker”; and (5) kissed her on the cheeks and, on one occasion, on the lips.From “REPORT OF INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT BY GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO”
Employees like Boylan feared they would face retaliation if they spoke out about the harassment. The Executive Chamber’s culture was “rife with fear and intimidation,” investigators charged. Bennett described the culture: “It was extremely toxic, extremely abusive. If you got yelled at in front of everyone, it wasn’t any special day . . . . It was controlled largely by his temper, and he was surrounded by people who enabled his behavior.” Trooper #1 told investigators she knew—as did many other Troopers they interviewed—of “horror stories about people getting kicked off the detail or transferred over like little things” that upset the Governor. As she put it, “Everyone knows he’s very vindictive.”
It was that vindictiveness that allegedly drove Cuomo to work with this staff on discrediting Boylan. Once Boylan went public in Dec. 2020, the investigators say, “the Governor and the Executive Chamber actively engaged in an effort to discredit her, including by disseminating to the press confidential internal documents that painted her in a negative light and circulating among a group of current and former Executive Chamber employees (although not ultimately publishing) a proposed op-ed or letter disparaging Ms. Boylan that the Governor personally participated in drafting.” That letter contained personal and professional attacks on Ms. Boylan, the report says.
“Senior staff also pressured former employees to surreptitiously record telephone conversations with, respectively, Ms. Boylan and Kaitlin (who had tweeted in support of Ms. Boylan), potentially in the hopes of obtaining additional information to use against any women who might speak out.”
But it wasn’t just women inside the governor’s office — outsiders were subject to Cuomo’s improprieties, too. In May 2017, Virginia Limmiatis attended an event on behalf of her employer (an energy company), at which the Governor spoke. Afterward, she waited in line to meet Gov. Cuomo. She wore a shirt with the company name across the front. The Governor ran his fingers across her chest while reading the company name, then brushed his hand between her shoulder and breasts. “I’m going to say I see a spider on your shoulder,” he said.
Limmiatis came forward after hearing Cuomo claim — five months ago today — that he never touched anyone inappropriately. “He is lying again. He touched me inappropriately,” Limmiatis testified to the investigators, adding that “not coming forward now would make me complicit in his lie, and I won’t do it.” The report continued:
“On September 14, 2019, at the wedding party of one of the Governor’s senior aides, the Governor approached a guest, Anna Ruch, shook her hand, and then quickly moved his hands to her back, touching her bare skin where there was a cutout in her dress. Ms. Ruch, feeling uncomfortable, grabbed the Governor’s wrist and removed his hand from her back. At that point, the Governor remarked, “Wow, you’re aggressive,” after which the Governor cupped her face in his hands and said, “can I kiss you?” Without waiting for a response, and as Ms. Ruch tried to move and turn her face away, the Governor kissed her left cheek. Pictures taken by Ms. Ruch’s friend captured the Governor’s kiss and Ms. Ruch’s uncomfortable reaction.”
“In his testimony, the Governor denied inappropriately touching Executive Assistant #1,
Trooper #1, State Entity Employee #1, or Ms. Limmiatis in the way they described, and he
generally denied touching anyone inappropriately,” the report says. Today, the Governor made similar statements and similar denials.
Cuomo denied all of the allegations in a video this afternoon, declaring that “the facts are much different from what has been portrayed.” He further argued that the investigations was “biased” and that he had never engaged in inappropriate touching.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” he said in what appeared to be a prerecorded message. “I am 63 years old. I have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am, and that’s not who I have ever been.”
Cuomo singled out “one complaint that bothered me most” — that of Charlotte Bennett. “Charlotte worked in my office last year as an assistant. She was smart, talented, and eager to learn. She identified herself to me as a survivor of sexual assault. She said that she came to work in administration because of all the progress we had made in fighting sexual assault. She talked about the personal trauma that she endured and how she was handling it. I could see how it had affected her, ” Cuomo said. He invoked one of his own family members to explain why he broached the subject with Bennett.
“My own family member is a survivor of sexual assault in high school. I have watched her live and suffer with the trauma. I would do anything to make to go away for her, but it never really goes away,” Cuomo said. “I couldn’t take away the pain; I still can’t. And this young woman brought it all back — she’s about the same age.”
“I did ask her questions I don’t normally ask people. I did ask her how she was doing and how she was feeling. And I did ask questions to try to see if she had positive supportive dating relationships,” he said. “I was trying to make sure she was working her way through it the best she could. I thought I had learned enough and had enough personal experience to help her, but I was wrong.”
Gov. Cuomo apologized to Bennett: “Charlotte, I want you to know that I am truly and deeply sorry. I brought my personal experience into the workplace and I shouldn’t have done that. I was trying to help. Obviously, I didn’t. I am even more sorry that I further complicated the situation. My goal was the exact opposite. I wish nothing but good for you and for all survivors of sexual assault.”
A minute later, Cuomo claimed that the allegations of unwatned touching and kissing were just his natural way of socializing: “Other complainants raised against me questions that have sought to unfairly characterize and weaponize everyday interactions that I’ve had with any number of New Yorkers. The New York Times published a front-page picture of me touching a woman’s face at a wedding and then kissing her on the cheek. That is not front-page news. I’ve been making the same gesture in public all my life. I actually learned that from my mother and from my father. It is meant to convey warmth, nothing more. Indeed, there are hundreds, if not thousands of photos of me using the exact same gesture. I do it with everyone, black and white, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, people who I meet on the street.”
As he spoke, a slideshow played of the governor greeting family members and colleagues, friends and New Yorkers. “I try to put people at ease,” he said.
But lawmakers aren’t convinced. The entire New York Democratic delegation is now calling on the governor to resign. In a joint statement, Representatives Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Brian Higgins, Nydia Velázquez, Ritchie Torres, Yvette Clarke, Kathleen Rice, Grace Meng, Adriano Espaillat, Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said, “For the good of New York State, Andrew Cuomo must resign. If he does not, the New York State Assembly must begin impeachment proceedings.”
Nor are Cuomo’s denials enough to convince the authorities. Gov. Cuomo is now under criminal investigation, the New York Times reports: “In a statement, the Albany County district attorney, David Soares, said that his office was conducting an investigation into Mr. Cuomo’s behavior and that it would be requesting investigative materials that the attorney general’s office had obtained. In his statement, Mr. Soares encouraged other victims to contact his office.”
BREAKING: President Joe Biden has commented on the matter, telling reporters: “I think he should resign.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi agreed: “Recognizing his love of New York and the respect for the office he holds, I call upon the governor to resign,” Pelosi concluded.
New York City Bill de Blasio was more direct. Speaking to CNN host Wolf Blitzer, de Blasio called Cuomo’s actions “textbook sexual harassment — disgusting and troubling and unacceptable, and he needs to leave office immediately.”
“None of this would’ve been illuminated if not for the heroic women who came forward,” James said today. “I am inspired by all of the brave women who came forward. But more importantly, I believe them.”