AG Report Leaves Cuomo Isolated Amid Growing Outrage
Westchester-based state trooper among women harassed by governor.
By Ryan J. Degan
After reports began surfacing early this year accusing him of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace, embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo pleaded with the public during a press conference in March to “get the facts please before forming an opinion.”
Saying at the time that he “fully supports a woman's right to come forward,” he also added: “I've been through the situation too many times where everybody has an opinion because they've read this…and then, all of a sudden, the facts come out, and it's a different situation. So, wait for the facts before you form an opinion.”
Since the facts have now been released in New York Attorney General Tish James’ blistering investigative report into the governor’s alleged misconduct, Cuomo’s response has been to deny the facts and put forth a more forgiving interpretation.
Released on Wednesday, AG James’ five-month-long investigation revealed numerous instances of alleged sexual harassment and bullying against at least 11 women, with nearly two hundred interviews and pages of documents backing up their claims. The women described acts of inappropriate comments, unwanted kissing, touching, and even groping – revealing a pattern of harassment and bullying that extended beyond just the members of his own staff.
In the report, one unidentified New York State Trooper recalls that, while assigned to his protective detail in Westchester County, Cuomo would often engage with her inappropriately in ways that he would not with her male counterparts. The trooper initially worked at the Governor’s residence in Mount Kisco, but in April 2019, was moved to a role on the Governor’s travel team, sometimes serving as his driver.
On one occasion, the trooper recalls Cuomo running his hand across her stomach, from her belly button to her back. On another, he ran his finger down her back, from the top of her neck down her spine to the middle of her back, saying “hey, you,” and on another kissing her on the cheek in front of another trooper.
He would often make sexually suggestive and gender-based comments toward the trooper, including asking her to help him find a girlfriend and describing his criteria for a girlfriend as someone who “can handle pain.” In another instance, he asked her why she wanted to get married when marriage means “your sex drive goes down,” and in yet another asked her why she did not wear a dress.
“This is a sad day for New York because independent investigators have concluded that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and, in doing so, broke the law,” AG James said on Tuesday after the release of her 165-page investigative report.
“I am grateful to all the women who came forward to tell their stories in painstaking detail, enabling investigators to get to the truth. No man – no matter how powerful – can be allowed to harass women or violate our human rights laws, period,” she added.
After an uproar of condemnation from constituents and elected officials alike, what is Cuomo’s defense? Essentially that he’s an affectionate guy who didn’t know any better.
“I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” he said during a roughly 14-minute video address responding to AG James’ report.
“I now understand that there are generational or cultural perspectives that frankly, I hadn't fully appreciated, and I have learned from this.” — Governor Andrew Cuomo
“I try to put people at ease, I try to make them smile, I try to connect with them, and I try to show my appreciation and my friendship. I now understand that there are generational or cultural perspectives that frankly, I hadn't fully appreciated, and I have learned from this,” he added.
The video – which included photos of himself kissing and embracing a myriad of constituents and (former) political allies – was followed by an 85-page rebuttal from Cuomo’s legal team defending his actions. Within that counter-report were eight pages dedicated to photos of Cuomo embracing prominent figures such as President Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton, followed by 15 more pages of politicians such as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris embracing constituents.
The Cuomo defense has thus far not been well received.
In Westchester County, where the state trooper is said to have faced harassment, county District Attorney Mimi Rocah announced on Wednesday that her team has opened up an investigation into Cuomo’s alleged misconduct and that they have formally requested “investigative materials” from the state AG.
“Yesterday, our office became aware of the final independent report from Attorney General Letitia James' office regarding Governor Andrew Cuomo's conduct,” Rocah said in a statement. As some of the Governor's conduct described in the report occurred in Westchester County, we have formally requested investigative materials obtained by the AG's Office.”
Representatives from Rocah’s office declined to comment further on the investigation given that it is ongoing; however, they did note that they’ve requested interview transcripts, notes, and reports about the unidentified trooper, as well as any other materials that relate to incidents which may have occurred within Rocah’s jurisdiction.
“While the report found that Governor Cuomo’s actions violated state and federal civil statutes, I believe it is appropriate for my Office to conduct a further inquiry to determine if any of the reported conduct that is alleged to have occurred in Westchester County is criminal in nature,” Rocah said in a letter to the attorney general requesting additional information.
Calls for Cuomo’s removal have turned into a deafening chorus that has left him with few political allies, with officials on both sides of the political spectrum, from President Biden on down, condemning Cuomo and his misconduct -- with many going so far as to call for his impeachment should he not voluntarily step down.
Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, for example, a longtime Cuomo critic and Republican gubernatorial hopeful, has taken the occasion to renew calls for Cuomo’s removal, calling the AG report “damning.”
“Most know today what I knew in his first term — that Cuomo is corrupt and incompetent, and New York has been in steady decline during his 11-year reign,” Astorino also said. “While many of his top political allies and associates sit in prison today, the question remains just how much longer can he evade accountability and justice. But one thing I believe to be certain and have believed since his first term — Cuomo has to go.”
Adding to the outcry against the governor, Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R-Mahopac) said: “For nearly six months, I have said there is more than enough public evidence to justify Assembly impeachment proceedings. The governor’s dishonesty over his handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes, his profiteering from a $5+ million book deal, and his now-confirmed gross mistreatment of women both inside and outside of the workplace have all passed the threshold for impeachment."
“Everyone is and should be afforded due process, but we mustn’t allow the governor another moment to abuse the powers of his office. The Assembly must vote on an impeachment resolution immediately,” he added.
With no notable elected official having come to his defense and even the most prominent members of his own party calling for his removal, it is a wonder that Cuomo is still struggling to retain his position.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) — who previously called for Cuomo’s removal — reiterated that she believed the governor should step down, saying: “This report highlights unacceptable behavior by Governor Cuomo and his administration. As I said, when these disturbing allegations first came to light, the Governor must resign for the good of the state. Now that the investigation is complete and the allegations have been substantiated, it should be clear to everyone that he can no longer serve as Governor.”
Stewart-Cousins added that “Our highest elected officials must reflect the values and integrity that they profess” and praised the “courageous” women who came forward to shed light on “this awful situation.”
Even local Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer joined in on the thrashing of Cuomo, saying: “The Attorney General’s findings are clear and compelling. The governor must resign. The patterns of sexually harassing, intimidating, and inappropriate behavior towards women cannot be tolerated.”
This is only a small sampling of the horde of condemnations hurled at Cuomo. A shortlist of local leaders who have called for his resignation or impeachment include Assemblyman Chris Burdick, State Senator Pete Harckham (D-Lewisboro), Congressman Mondaire Jones (D-White Plains), Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring), State Senator Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers), Republican candidate for Westchester County Executive Christine Sculti and Yorktown Supervisor Matt Slater.
And that’s not even mentioning the national heat from President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer – all of whom have called for Cuomo’s resignation.
State lawmakers have told Cuomo on Thursday that their impeachment investigation is almost complete and gave him a deadline of Aug. 13 to provide additional evidence in his defense.
As of Friday, Cuomo remains defiant even as the first of his accusers, known in the report as “Executive Assistant #1,” filed a criminal complaint against him with the Albany County sheriff's office. Whether to stall for time in the hopes of some political miracle or that the public will disregard the facts supported by the testimony of nearly a dozen women, Cuomo seems poised to make a go of it alone.
Ryan J. Degan is a freelance reporter living in Brooklyn. A passionate journalist originally from the California Bay Area, he enjoys writing about local politics, city planning, and social issues. He can most often be found running laps around Prospect Park or exploring the five boroughs in the search for the perfect slice of pizza.