NEW YORK (WIVB/AP) — New York Attorney General Letitia James says her office has determined that Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed sexual harassment.
According to James, the Governor violated state and federal law by sexually harassing several female employees.
During a conference on Tuesday morning, James revealed that investigators spoke with 179 people and reviewed more than 74,000 documents, including texts, pictures, audio files and emails.
People interviewed included complainants, current and former members of the executive chamber, State troopers, additional state employees and others who interacted regularly with the governor.
“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,” James said at a press conference on Tuesday.
On at least one occasion, the investigation found, Cuomo and his senior staff worked to retaliate against a former employee who accused him of wrongdoing. Cuomo was also found to have harassed women outside of government, the investigation found.
James said the investigation wouldn’t have been possible without the “heroic women who came forward.”
Cuomo faced multiple allegations last winter that he inappropriately touched and sexually harassed women who worked with him or who he met at public events. One aide in his office said he groped her breast.
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Another, Lindsey Boylan, said Cuomo kissed her on the lips after a meeting in his office and “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.”
After Boylan first made her allegations public in December, the Cuomo administration undercut her story by releasing personnel memos to media outlets revealing that Boylan resigned after she was confronted about complaints she belittled and yelled at her staff.
Boylan has said those records “were leaked to the media in an effort to smear me.”
Other aides have said that the Democratic governor asked them unwelcome personal questions about sex and dating. One former aide, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo asked if she was open to sex with an older man.
News 4 received a statement from Debra Katz, the attorney representing Bennett:
“The findings released today demonstrate what Charlotte Bennett stated publicly, at great personal cost, more than six months ago: Governor Cuomo sexually harassed her during her employment as his executive assistant and his enablers protected him and covered it up.
The Governor came on to Charlotte and made unwelcome sexual advances toward her in his personal office as New York endured the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The actions he took against Charlotte fit the very definition of sexual harassment under Executive Department policy, and, further, violated New York state law. He subjected Charlotte to sexual harassment, individually, and created a sexually hostile and toxic work environment for all women. Sadly, Charlotte was not the only extraordinary woman whose career in the Executive Department was cut short and derailed as a result of the Governor’s illegal behavior. The Governor’s actions have deprived New Yorkers of the professionalism, passion, and dedication to their state that Charlotte and the many others who refused to submit to his advances have to offer.
The Governor must resign immediately, along with his senior staff who protected and enabled him in violation of NY State law, to the detriment of the women he harassed. If he does not, the New York State Assembly must accept the Attorney General’s findings and begin taking the appropriate steps to remove him from office.”Debra Katz
“Some suffered through unwanted touching, and grabbing of their most intimate body parts. Others suffered through repeated offensive, sexually suggestive, or gender-based comments,” Joon Kim, one of the lawyers leading the investigation, said at the press conference. “A number of them endured both. None of them welcomed it. And all of them found it disturbing, humiliating, uncomfortable and inappropriate.”
Last winter there was a chorus of calls for Cuomo’s resignation from many top elected Democrats in New York, including two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. But Cuomo refused to quit and has been raising money for a fourth term in office.
His position on the allegations has also hardened into one of defiance. Cuomo has always denied touching anyone inappropriately, but he initially said he was sorry if his behavior with women was “misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation.” In recent months, he’s taken a more combative tack, saying he did nothing wrong and questioning the motives of accusers and critics.
He has also questioned the neutrality of the lawyers hired by the attorney general to investigate the allegations. Kim, was involved in previous investigations of corruption by people in Cuomo’s administration when he was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan. Cuomo hasn’t expressly said why he believes that would make Kim biased.
In the hours leading into James’ announcement, Cuomo’s office issued numerous press releases including the completion of mixed-use housing in Buffalo plans to build a new $3.9 billion terminal at Kennedy Airport and JetBlue’s decision to keep its headquarters in New York. As James was speaking, Cuomo’s publicists sent out a release about reclaiming the sites of old power plants.
The attorney general’s report is expected to play an important role in an ongoing inquiry in the state Assembly into whether there are grounds for Cuomo to be impeached.
The Assembly hired its own legal team to investigate Cuomo’s conduct, plus other allegations of wrongdoing. The legislature is looking into the help Cuomo got from senior aides to write a book about the pandemic, special access that Cuomo relatives got to COVID-19 testing last year, and the administration’s decision to withhold some data on nursing home deaths from the public for several months.
Some members of the judiciary committee have said they expect James’ report to be “critical” for the impeachment investigation.
Regarding the report, James says “the matter is civil in nature and does not have any criminal consequences.”
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.
The governor, in contrast, has repeatedly argued that he did not intend to harass anyone. His office has said he took the state’s mandated sexual harassment training, but has not provided any documentation proving he did.
He issued a response to James’ report on Tuesday afternoon.
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.”
After the results of the investigation were announced, News 4 received a statement from Mariann Wang, a lawyer representing two accusers — Alyssa McGrath and Virginia Limmiatis.
“The report is extraordinarily thorough and detailed, and finds the governor repeatedly engaged in unlawful behavior. Specifically, Cuomo engaged in profoundly humiliating and abusive behavior towards women who worked for and with him, including by touching their intimate body parts without consent.
And more even than that, Cuomo and those around him punished anyone who dared to come forward and report his behavior.
I represent two women who were subjected to his abuse – Alyssa McGrath who still works for the Governor, and Virginia Limmiatis, who was subjected to his unwanted touching in 2017.
They were enormously courageous in coming forward. They feel profoundly grateful to the AG’s team for taking this seriously and examining their reports thoroughly and carefully.
Cuomo’s misogyny and abuse cannot be denied. He has been doing this for years, without any repercussions.
He should not be in charge of our government and should not be in any position of power over anyone else.”Mariann Wang
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Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.
Dave Greber is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here.