New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has faced mounting pressure to resign, including from President Joe Biden and other onetime Democratic allies, after an investigation found he sexually harassed nearly a dozen women and worked to retaliate against one of his accusers.
“I think he should resign,” Biden told reporters Tuesday, echoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York's US Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, all Democrats.
The leader of the state Assembly, which has the power to bring impeachment charges, said it was clear Cuomo could no longer remain in office. Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, said he would move to complete an impeachment inquiry "as quickly as possible.”
Cuomo remained defiant, saying in a taped response to the findings that “the facts are much different than what has been portrayed" and that he “never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”
In a telephone conversation with Heastie, Cuomo insisted he wouldn't leave office and told the speaker he needed to work fellow Democrats and garner enough votes to stop an impeachment, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
But Heastie said he couldn't do that, said the person, who could not publicly discuss details of the private conversation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The nearly five-month, non-criminal investigation, overseen by New York's attorney general and led by two outside lawyers, concluded that 11 women from within and outside state government were telling the truth when they said Cuomo had touched them inappropriately, commented on their appearance or made suggestive comments about their sex lives.
Those accusers included an aide who said Cuomo groped her breast at the governor's mansion, and a state trooper on his security detail who said he ran his hand or fingers across her stomach and her back.
Anne Clark, who led the probe with former U.S. Attorney Joon Kim, said the allegations had varying degrees of corroboration, including other witnesses and contemporaneous text messages. Investigators interviewed 179 people, including the governor himself.
“These interviews and pieces of evidence revealed a deeply disturbing yet clear picture: Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Many of the women said they feared retaliation if they reported Cuomo's behavior, investigators said, describing his administration as a hostile workplace “rife with fear and intimidation.”
On one occasion, the probe found, Cuomo's staff took action “intended to discredit and disparage” an accuser — Lindsey Boylan, the first former employee to publicly accuse him of wrongdoing — including leaking confidential personnel files and drafting a letter attacking her credibility.
The investigation's findings, detailed in a 165-page public report, turn up the pressure on the 63-year-old governor, who just a year ago was widely hailed for his steady leadership during the darkest days of the COVID-19 crisis, even writing a book about it.
Since then, he's seen his standing crumble with a drumbeat of harassment allegations, questions in a separate, ongoing inquiry into whether state resources went into writing the book, and the discovery that his administration concealed the true number of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
Schumer and Gillibrand said Tuesday's report only reinforces the calls they and other New York Democrats made for Cuomo to resign after the bulk of the allegations were made public last winter.
“No elected official is above the law. The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor's office. We continue to believe that the Governor should resign,” they said in a joint statement.
While James concluded the investigation without referring the case to prosecutors for possible criminal charges, local authorities could use its evidence and findings to mount cases. Albany District Attorney David Soares said he would request materials from James' office and welcomed victims to contact him.
Heastie said the investigation's findings are crucial to expediting the ongoing state Assembly inquiry into whether there are grounds to impeach Cuomo, who's been raising money for a potential fourth term. The Assembly hired its own legal team to investigate myriad allegations regarding harassment, his book, nursing homes and special access to COVID-19 testing.
In his taped response, Cuomo apologized to two accusers: Charlotte Bennett, who said the governor asked if she was open to sex with an older man after she confided she had been a sexual assault victim, and a woman he kissed at a wedding. Cuomo said he was hiring an expert to reform sexual harassment training for state employees, including the governor.
But he denied other allegations as fabricated and lashed out at the investigative process, saying it was fuelled by “politics and bias.” He explained that he's physically embraced people his whole life, that his mother and father — former Gov. Mario Cuomo — had done the same and that the gesture was meant to “convey warmth.”
Cuomo's lawyer issued a written rebuttal to the investigation's findings, arguing in most cases that serious allegations, like the alleged groping, didn't happen, or that his actions were misconstrued. (AP)