The attorney general of New York has announced the completed investigation into Andrew Cuomo found he sexually harassed current and former employees, plus previously unknown members of the public.
In response to 11 women coming forward, Mr Cuomo said he “never touched anyone inappropriately” and in a bizarre defence showed a video montage of himself touching multiple people.
The Democratic governor has refused to resign despite calls from key leadership figures within his own party, including President Joe Biden, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
While the report did not conclude whether the conduct should be subject to criminal prosecution, Mr Cuomo said he welcomes the opportunity to face some of the allegations in court.
In one instance outlined in the report, Mr Cuomo even sexually harassed the doctor who gave him a Covid test live on air by saying: “Nice to see you, doctor, you make that gown look good”.
In another, an unidentified executive assistant said Mr Cuomo grabbed her breast under her blouse and grabbed her bottom on multiple occasions, while an unidentified state employee said he also grabbed her bottom while taking a selfie.
A previously unreported complaint from Virginia Limmiatis said Mr Cuomo ran “two fingers across her chest” while reading the name “National Grid” written across the front of her shirt. Leaning in with his face close to her cheek, Mr Cuomo brushed his hand below her collarbone after reportedly saying: “I’m going to say I see a spider on your shoulder.”
When a state Trooper told the governor she was getting married, he replied that marriage “always ends in divorce, and you lose money, and your sex drive goes down”.
In a live-streamed response to the probe, Mr Cuomo said he “never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances”.
His photo montage of him kissing and touching the faces of multiple people over the years was then shown as a response to the specific allegation from Anna Ruch.
Ms Ruch was a guest at a wedding in 2019 when she was photographed with Mr Cuomo touching her cheeks, which was published by The New York Times.
The report into the allegation said Ms Ruch grabbed his wrist off her exposed back and said, “wow, you’re aggressive” before he grabbed her face and said, “can I kiss you?”.
Mr Cuomo said everyday interactions were being “weaponised” to score political points, seek publicity and personal gain.
“That is not front-page news. I’ve been making the same gesture in public all my life. I actually learned it from my mother and from my father,” he said. “It is meant to convey warmth, nothing more.”
He also directly addressed one of his accusers, Charlotte Bennett, who had been a survivor of sexual assault. Mr Cuomo said his comments were an attempt to help her process her previous trauma. He did this, he said, because he was previously unable to help one of his family members who was a survivor of sexual assault.
“I was trying to make sure she was working her way through it the best she could,” he said.
At a press conference to announce the conclusion of the five-month probe, Attorney General Letitia James said the harassment of multiple women created a hostile work environment and violated state and federal laws.
“Specifically, the investigation found that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former New York State employees by engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive sexual nature, that created a hostile work environment for women,” she said.
She said the women, many of whom were young, experienced unwanted groping, kisses, hugging, and inappropriate comments, and that they were not isolated incidents but were rather part of a pattern.
The 165-page report also found that Mr Cuomo and senior staff retaliated against a former employee who accused him of wrongdoing. The probe appeared to confirm reporting from the New Yorker that Mr Cuomo’s team leaked the confidential records of former staffer Lindsey Boylan, who accused the governor of kissing her and going out of his way to touch her lower back, arms and legs.
Following Ms Boylan’s allegations in late February, at least seven women came out with allegations of misconduct.
The findings come on the heels of a Times report that Mr Cuomo was grilled for 11 hours in a videotaped interview in July as part of the investigation. There were tense moments during the interview, with the governor questioning the independence of an investigator, Joon H Kim, over previous investigations he has conducted into the governor and his allies, the Times said.
Mr Kim and co-lead investigator Anne L Clark wrote in the report that Mr Cuomo’s behaviour extended beyond his own staff to other members of the public and government employees, including a State Trooper within his protective detail.
“We also conclude that the Executive Chamber’s culture – one filled with fear and intimidation, while at the same time normalising the Governor’s frequent flirtations and gender-based comments – contributed to the conditions that allowed the sexual harassment to occur and persist,” they wrote.
Ms James said the findings were based on interviews with 179 people and a review of 74,000 pieces of evidence that painted a “deeply disturbing yet clear picture”. The report did not, however, conclude whether the conduct should be subject to criminal prosecution.
The Democratic party was in lock-step that Mr Cuomo should resign following the release of the report. President Joe Biden, however, stopped short of saying whether or not he should be impeached if he refused to step aside.
“Let’s take one thing at a time here, I think he should resign, I understand that the State legislature may decide to impeach, I don’t know that for a fact,” Mr Biden said.
“I am sure there are some embraces that were totally innocent, but apparently the attorney general decided there were things that weren’t,” he added.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement that it is “beyond clear” the governor is no longer fit to hold office.
“He must resign, and if he continues to resist and attack the investigators who did their jobs, he should be impeached immediately,” he said.
New York’s two senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, meanwhile, released a joint statement calling on Mr Cuomo to resign.
“As we have said before, the reported actions of the governor were profoundly disturbing, inappropriate and completely unacceptable,” they said. “No elected official is above the law. The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor’s office”.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement the investigation was “comprehensive and independent” and commended the women who came forward to “speak their truth”.
“Recognising his love of New York and the respect for the office he holds, I call upon the governor to resign,” the statement said.
Calls for Mr Cuomo’s resignation were joined by the attorney for one of his accusers, Charlotte Bennet. Lawyer Debra Katz told CNN that the findings confirmed Ms Bennet’s account of sexual harassment.
“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 behaviour,” she said.
“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.”
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