Oh my: Cuomo staffers conducting intimidation campaign against accusers?

Is Andrew Cuomo trying to get impeached? A report from the Wall Street Journal suggests the embattled governor and his aides are taking a page out of the Corruptocrat’s Guide to the Political Galaxy. Faced with emerging tales of sexual harassment, sources tell the WSJ that Cuomo’s office began calling around in what felt like an attempt to discourage people from coming forward:

In the days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was first accused of sexual harassment by a former aide, the governor’s office called at least six former employees either to find out if they had heard from the accuser or to glean information about her in conversations that some said they saw as attempts to intimidate them.

Some of the people who received the calls said they hadn’t heard from the administration in months before getting the call about the accuser. One said a caller encouraged them to give reporters any information discrediting the accuser, Lindsey Boylan, who worked as an economic adviser for the Cuomo administration between 2015 and 2018.

The calls were made by current administration officials and former aides who are still close to the governor’s office, according to several recipients. The outreach came at the behest of Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top aide, according to people familiar with the effort.

“I felt intimidated, and I felt bewildered,” said Ana Liss, a former aide to the governor who received one of the calls.

Just for reference, Liss had last worked in Cuomo’s office five years earlier. Her call came from Rich Azzopardi, who was last seen sneering at Janice Dean over the death of her in-laws in one of Cuomo’s infamous nursing homes. You don’t send Azzopardi off to do sensitive inquiries; you send him off to bully people into shutting up. Although in both cases, Azzopardi’s efforts ended up backfiring.

DeRosa certainly won’t win any awards for Top Henchperson of the Year, either. Readers will recall that DeRosa helped catalyze Cuomo’s other scandal by telling state legislators that Cuomo lied about nursing-home deaths because Donald Trump had politicized the issue. It turns out that Cuomo’s “top aides” had covered up that data long before the Department of Justice had taken any interest in the issue, but just at the same time that Cuomo was negotiating a book deal reportedly worth “low to mid seven figures.”

Making a few calls didn’t comprise the extent of the intimidation campaign against his sexual-harassment accusers, according to the New Yorker. A few days ago, Eric Lach revealed that news outlets mysteriously got leaked personnel files on Lindsey Boylan just hours after her first accusation went out on Twitter in mid-December:

Within hours of Boylan’s tweet on December 13th, several news outlets reported that they had “obtained” state-government documents relating to Boylan’s job performance in the Cuomo administration. The documents—described by the Associated Press as “personnel memos,” by the Post as “personnel documents,” and by the Times Union as “personnel records”—said that several women had complained to a state-government human-resources office that Boylan had “behaved in a way towards them that was harassing, belittling, and had yelled and been generally unprofessional.” According to the Post’s account, “three black employees went to state human resources officials accusing Boylan, who is white, of being a ‘bully’ who ‘treats them like children.’ ” According to the Associated Press, the documents said that Boylan resigned after being “counseled” about the complaints in a meeting with a top administration lawyer. Reporters who wanted to dig into Boylan’s accusations against Cuomo now had to contend with the possibility that there were people out there who might have accusations to make against Boylan. At best, the documents seemed to raise questions about Boylan’s reliability. At worst, they painted her as a racist.

In a statement, Boylan’s attorney, Jill Basinger, told me Boylan has never seen the documents that the news accounts referenced—which Basinger called a “supposed ‘personnel file.’ ” Basinger accused the Governor’s office of leaking the documents, and also said she expects that the attorney general’s investigation will look into the leak. “It is both shocking and disgusting that the governor and his staff would seek to smear victims of sexual harassment,” Basinger said. “Ms. Boylan will not be intimidated or silenced. She intends to cooperate fully with the Attorney General’s investigation.”

Cuomo’s office tried to pass the leak off as legally acceptable, but the Department of Justice might beg to differ:

Who leaked the documents? Who authorized the leak? And was the Governor involved? In response to these and other questions, Cuomo’s special counsel and senior advisor, Beth Garvey, sent me a statement saying, “With certain limited exceptions, as a general matter, it is within a government entity’s discretion to share redacted employment records, including in instances when members of the media ask for such public information and when it is for the purpose of correcting inaccurate or misleading statements. Given the ongoing review by the State Attorney General, we cannot comment further at this time.” …

On Monday, James, the attorney general, announced that Joon Kim, a former acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Anne Clark, an employment discrimination attorney, would lead the investigations into the harassment allegations. A source familiar with the investigation told me that the leak of the Boylan documents may well be one of the matters Kim and Clark look at.

If the WSJ’s sources are correct, Cuomo and his office might have some legal risk on witness tampering, too. There may also be civil liabilities in conducting such a campaign of dirt-gathering and smear tactics. At the very least, the overall impression is not one of aggrieved innocence, but rather wagon-circling and arm-twisting. With the state legislature considering impeachment, the toughest decision facing New York Democrats is no longer whether to boot Cuomo from office, but for which scandal.