Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, including current and former government workers, breaking state and federal laws and engaging in a pattern of unwanted touching and inappropriate comments, according to a much-anticipated report from the New York state attorney general, Letitia James, released Tuesday.
The 165-page report said that Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, and his aides cultivated a toxic work culture in his office that was rife with fear and intimidation, and helped enable “harassment to occur and created a hostile work environment.”
The report included at least two previously unreported allegations of sexual harassment from women who accused Cuomo of improperly touching them, including an unnamed female state trooper and an employee of an energy company. And it highlighted at least one instance in which Cuomo and his aides retaliated against one of the women who made her allegations public.
“Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of both federal and state laws,” James said. “The independent investigation found that Governor Cuomo harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging, and by making inappropriate comments.”
James said the report revealed “a deeply disturbing, yet clear picture” and “conduct that corrodes the very fabric and character of our state government and shines light on injustice that can be present at the highest levels of government.”
Shortly after the release of the report, the Albany County district attorney, David Soares, said in a statement that his office was conducting an investigation into Cuomo’s behavior.
Soares said that the office would be requesting investigative materials that the attorney general’s office had obtained, and encouraged other victims to contact his office. The Albany police department had previously been notified of some of the behavior in the report, including that the governor had groped the breast of a female aide.
Responding to the report from Albany shortly after, Cuomo reiterated his contention that he had never touched anyone inappropriately, declaring that “the facts are much different from what has been portrayed.”
“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.”
As he has before, Cuomo argued that he has a tendency to hug or kiss people on the cheek, gestures he described as “meant to convey warmth, nothing more.”
As he spoke, a slide show was played of photographs showing him hugging and kissing members of the public and powerful leaders. “I do it with everyone,” Cuomo said, offering the pictures as evidence. “Black and white, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, people who I meet on the street.”
Cuomo also defended his office by describing it as a high-pressure, demanding workplace, but not a toxic environment. He said a document refuting each of the women’s claims would be posted on the governor’s website, saying that “trial by newspaper or biased reviews” were not the way to treat the claims.
The findings of the report could fuel support for impeachment proceedings against Cuomo in the state Legislature, which Democrats overwhelmingly control, lead to additional calls for his resignation and influence public opinion as he considers running for a fourth term. Outside lawyers hired by the Assembly’s judiciary committee are currently looking at not only the sexual harassment claims, but also a series of scandals with a common theme: whether or not Cuomo abused his power while in office.
The investigation was conducted by two outside lawyers hired by James: Joon H. Kim, a former top federal prosecutor, and Anne L. Clark, a well-known employment lawyer.
On Tuesday, Kim said their investigation revealed “a pattern” of behavior from Cuomo and found that the culture within the executive chamber “contributed to “conditions that allowed the governor’s sexually harassing conduct to occur and to persist.”
“It was a culture where you could not say no to the governor and if you upset him or his senior staff you would be written off, cast aside or worse,” Kim said. “But at the same time the witnesses described a culture that normalized and overlooked everyday flirtations, physical intimacy and inappropriate comments by the governor.”
The investigators said 11 women had accused Cuomo of a range of inappropriate behavior; nine of them are current or former state employees, they said. Investigators said they interviewed 179 witnesses and collected tens of thousands of documents to corroborate the claims.
Clark said that the governor’s conduct detailed in the report “clearly meets, and far exceeds” the legal standard used to determine gender-based harassment in the workplace.
“Women also described to us having the governor seek them out, stare intently at them, look them up and down or gaze at their chest or butt,” she said. “The governor routinely interacted with women in ways that focused on their gender, sometimes in explicitly sexualized manner in ways that women found deeply humiliating and offensive.”
Even before the report’s release Tuesday, the damage to Cuomo has been considerable: In a span of a few weeks earlier this year, the allegations and a series of other scandals compounded into the most severe political crisis Cuomo has confronted in his 10 years in office, a steep fall for a governor once hailed a national leader during the coronavirus pandemic.
Members of his party openly turned on him, raising questions about his capacity to govern and calling on him to resign. The state Assembly launched a broad impeachment investigation to scrutinize, among other issues, the governor’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, which federal prosecutors also began to investigate. Cuomo saw his once-soaring approval ratings sink, his fundraising numbers take a hit and a list of potential challengers expand as he eyes a run for a fourth term next year.
Yet, despite the profound political backlash, Cuomo has refused to step down. Cuomo has repeatedly denied many of the claims and any deliberate wrongdoing, apologizing for interactions that may have made women “feel uncomfortable.”
In late February, Lindsey Boylan, a former economic development official in the Cuomo administration, became the first woman to outline her claims against the governor. Boylan said Cuomo suggested they play “strip poker” on a plane while on a work trip and said the governor kissed her on the lips in his Manhattan office.
A few days later, Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant to Cuomo, told The New York Times that the governor made comments that she took as sexual overtures while they were alone in his Albany office last year. Bennett said Cuomo said he was looking for a girlfriend and asked her whether she was monogamous and had sex with older men.
In early March, a current female aide who has not been publicly identified leveled one of the most serious allegations: She said Cuomo reached under her blouse and groped one of her breasts while they were alone on the second floor of the Executive Mansion in Albany late last year. She said she had been summoned to his residence to assist Cuomo with a technical issue. Cuomo has denied the woman’s account, saying he has never touched anyone inappropriately.
The flurry of allegations, and the growing calls for his resignation, led Cuomo to authorize James to oversee an investigation led by outside lawyers into any sexual harassment claims against him.
Following the report’s release Tuesday, Carl E. Heastie, the speaker of the state Assembly, said that the Assembly, which has the power to impeach Cuomo, would undertake “an in-depth examination of the report and its corresponding exhibits,” adding that “we will have more to say in the very near future.”
“The conduct by the governor outlined in this report would indicate someone who is not fit for office,” he said in a statement.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .