New York’s Andrew Cuomo faces day of reckoning over sexual harassment claims

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A New York attorney general’s report corroborating 11 claims of sexual harassment by Gov. Andrew Cuomo left the one-time Democratic star isolated and without public allies on Tuesday, with deafening calls for his resignation from the most senior members of his own party in the White House, Congress and Albany.

Not one ally publicly came to the defense of the 63-year-old governor, who had begun fundraising ahead of the end of his third term in 2022. Until Tuesday, Cuomo had staved off a meltdown after some allegations were made public late last year by claiming he was misunderstood, calling the allegations politically motivated and asking the public to wait for the results of an investigation.

But that argument — repeated almost word-for-word in a video statement shortly after state Attorney General Letitia James’s report was released — rang hollow to leading Democrats in the wake of new allegations in the report that included unwanted touching and personal comments toward women on his office staff and a state trooper on his personal security detail.

The 165-page report claimed among other allegations that he groped the women, made comments about their appearances and sex lives, and told them he was “lonely” and “wanted to be touched.” There were accusations that he grabbed women’s breasts and buttocks, and in one particularly striking example, that he ran a finger down the spine of the state trooper as she stood in front of him in an elevator to protect him and later caressed her abdomen near her weapon holster.

Cuomo created a “climate of fear” in his office and violated multiple federal and state harassment laws, the report said. Democrats in New York and Washington who were waiting for James to release the findings all concluded he should resign, including President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The list of allies abandoning him also includes the Democratic nominee for New York mayor Eric Adams, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and public employee unions that have long backed him.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who had been criticized by some lawmakers for slow-walking a separate review of the claims, issued a statement late Tuesday that it was “abundantly clear to me that the governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office.” Heastie said he would move quickly on an impeachment investigation that had begun in the spring.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference at her office in New York City on Tuesday. | REUTERS
New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference at her office in New York City on Tuesday. | REUTERS

At an afternoon news conference, Biden was asked if Cuomo should resign and answered “yes.”

“I think he should resign,” he added when pressed further. “I understand that the state legislature may decide to impeach. I don’t know that for fact. I’ve not read all that data.”

“The time has come for Governor Andrew Cuomo to do the right thing for the people of New York State and resign,” U.S. Reps. Tom Suozzi, Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries said in a statement, joining Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee, which was looking into impeachment, had already planned on meeting Aug. 9 to discuss updates with its lawyers.

Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, which represents 175,000 custodians, airport workers, and other building support staff on the East Coast, said in a statement Tuesday that the organization was “disappointed” by the details in the report and that Cuomo should resign.

“Creating work environments where sexual harassment is not tolerated is not a matter of politics but principle, from which no one should be exempted,” the union’s president, Kyle Bragg, said in a statement posted on Twitter. He said the union would support efforts to “bring accountability to the office with all deliberate speed” if Cuomo fails to step down.

The James report, conducted by outside attorneys Joon Kim and Anne Clark, was unveiled at a by-the-books news conference. Investigators reviewed 74,000 documents, emails and texts and interviewed 179 people that corroborated the allegations.

Cuomo may face criminal charges. The Albany County district attorney’s office said it would be reviewing James’s report as part of an “ongoing criminal investigation.”

When the allegations first surfaced, Cuomo sought to delay the day of reckoning by calling for a complete investigation to be conducted. In remarks following the release of the report, he again called for a pause Tuesday, noting that one former staffer has suggested she will file a civil claim and saying that he awaited “a full and fair review before a judge and jury” on the matter.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a statement in this screen grab taken from a video released on Tuesday. | OFFICE OF GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO / VIA REUTERS
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a statement in this screen grab taken from a video released on Tuesday. | OFFICE OF GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO / VIA REUTERS

He also said that “politics and bias” are woven into every aspect of the case, complaining about “trial by newspaper” and “biased reviews” and referring to the “superheated if not toxic political environment.”

One of his accusers, Charlotte Bennett told “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell” that his apology to her in her earlier statements was “not necessary. It’s fake.”

“He sexually harassed me. I am not confused,” she said. “I am living in reality, and it’s sad to see that he’s not.”

The conclusion of James’s investigation caps a dramatic drop for Cuomo, whose televised press briefings in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic led to talk of him as a potential presidential candidate. Cuomo rejected calls to run for the White House, saying he intended to run for a fourth term, something his father, former three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo, had failed to achieve. His favorability, which peaked at 77% in April 2020, dropped to 45% in a July Siena College poll, roughly tied with his disapproval rating.

In a joint statement, a dozen Democratic members of the U.S. House from New York, including Reps. Jerry Nadler and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called the report on Cuomo “deeply disturbing, clear and thorough,” and cited his own statement in 2013 calling on a state assemblyman to immediately resign over sexual misconduct allegations.

“There should be a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment and we must now send a clear message that this behavior is not tolerated,” they quoted Cuomo saying recently, adding, “We agree.”

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