New York AG: Gov. Cuomo 'sexually harassed multiple women' in 'toxic workplace' (Update: The groping allegation)

This morning Ed wrote about the Luv Guv’s 11-hour grilling under oath that took place yesterday. AG Letitia James’ plan all along has been to work through everyone’s account of what happened culminating in yesterday’s interview of Gov. Cuomo. Given that his interview was the final step, it’s not surprising that only a day later, the AG can report the outcome of the investigation which began with a referral on March 1.

Speaking this morning at a press conference AG James got right to the point. “The independent investigation has concluded that Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and in doing so violated federal and state law.” She went on to say that Cuomo engaged in “unwelcome and non-consensual touching” in addition to suggestive sexual comments. All of this created a “hostile work environment” for women.

James continued, “The investigators independently corroborated and substantiated these facts through interviews and evidence including contemporaneous notes and communications. This evidence will be made available to the public along with the report.”

After introducing the two attorneys who led the investigation, James said the evidence in the case revealed “a deeply disturbing yet clear picture.” She added, “The independent investigation found that Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging and by making inappropriate comments.

“Further, the Governor and his senior team took actions to retaliate against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story, her truth. Governor Cuomo’s administration fostered a toxic workplace that enabled harassment and created a hostile work environment where staffers did not feel comfortable coming forward with complaints about sexual harassment due to a climate of fear and given the power dynamics.” James then praised the “heroic women” who came forward to tell the truth about the Governor saying that she believed them.

There’s more to the press conference as both attorneys who led the investigation also got up to speak about the findings but you get the gist. This is the equivalent of a defendant being found guilty on all counts. Nothing AG James said was even a little bit exculpatory for Cuomo.

This obviously leaves one big question hanging in the air today: What does Cuomo do now? For months he has repeatedly said that he wanted everyone to wait for the results of the investigation before reaching conclusions. He has suggested that the investigation would clear him. So now that it didn’t do that, what’s his next move? Does he resign and admit that mistakes were made? Or does he come out swinging and accuse AG James of gunning for his job with a biased report?

As of yesterday, it sounded as if he was on track #2 but the details in the report, which he is surely pouring over now, might cause him to change his tune. So far the only thing he’s posted on social media today was a notice declaring it “Tony Bennett Day.” I’m sure we’ll have more updates on this story throughout the day. For now, you can watch the press conference in full.

Update: Here’s a link to the full 165-page report. You probably recall that one of the allegations made against Cuomo was that he’d groped a woman under her blouse at the Governor’s mansion. The report leads with the account of Executive Assistant #1 which contains several pages about his unwanted touching:

Executive Assistant #1 testified that the Governor touched her on several occasions. Some of the touching occurred as part of general interactions involving hugs, greetings, and taking photographs (although often more aggressive than commonplace physical contact), while other incidents involved intentional touching and grabbing of private parts, including the butt and the breast…

On December 31, 2019, Executive Assistant #1 was assisting the Governor in his office at the Executive Mansion when the Governor asked her to take a “selfie” photograph with him. Governor Cuomo stood next to Executive Assistant #1, on her left, as she took a selfie with her right hand. As Executive Assistant #1 held up the camera, the Governor moved his hand to grab her butt cheek and began to rub it. The rubbing lasted at least five seconds.

Executive Assistant #1 was shaking so much during this interaction that her initial selfies with the Governor were very blurry. At the Governor’s suggestion, the two of them then sat down and took one more selfie, with the Governor’s hands around Executive Assistant #1’s waist. The Governor then told Executive Assistant #1 to send the photograph to Ms. McGrath, and directed Executive Assistant #1 not to share the photograph with anyone else…

On November 16, 2020, Stephanie Benton, the Director of the Governor’s Offices, asked Executive Assistant #1 to assist the Governor at the Executive Mansion. The Blackberry PIN messages that the PSU uses to announce visitors to the Executive Mansion confirm that Executive Assistant #1 was called to the Executive Mansion and arrived there on November 16. As Executive Assistant #1 finished her assignment and prepared to leave the Governor’s personal office, on the second floor in the Mansion, and return to the Capitol, the Governor pulled Executive Assistant #1 in for a close hug.

Executive Assistant #1 was conscious that the door to the Governor’s office (facing out into the hallway on the second floor) was open at the time. Executive Assistant #1 stepped away from the Governor and said, “You’re going to get us in trouble,” to which the Governor replied, “I don’t care,” and slammed the door shut. Executive Assistant #1 testified that the Governor’s demeanor at the time “wasn’t like ‘ha ha,’ it was like, ‘I don’t care.’ . . . It was like in this—at that moment he was sexually driven. I could tell and the way he said it, I could tell.”

The Governor then returned to Executive Assistant #1 and slid his hand up her blouse, and grabbed her breast, “cupp[ing her] breast” over her bra. Executive Assistant #1 testified:

I mean it was—he was like cupping my breast. He cupped my breast. I have to tell you it was—at the moment I was in such shock that I could just tell you that I just remember looking down seeing his hand, seeing the top of my bra and I remember it was like a little even the cup—the kind of bra that I had to the point I could tell you doesn’t really fit me properly, it was a little loose, I just remember seeing exactly that.

In response, Executive Assistant #1 pulled away from the Governor and said, “You’re crazy.” She testified:

At that moment it was so quick and he didn’t say anything and I just remember thinking to myself, oh my God, and I remember stopping and him not saying anything and I remember I walked out and he didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything.

I remember walking down the stairs, escorting myself out the front door, going back to my car, taking a deep breath and saying to myself, okay, everything that just happened I have to now pretend like it didn’t just happen. Go back to the Capitol and sit at my desk and continue with my afternoon.

And I remember thinking to myself who—I knew what just went on, I knew and he knew too that was wrong. And that I in no way, shape or form invited that nor did I ask for it. I didn’t want it. I feel like I was being taken advantage of . . . .

Does Cuomo have any chance of remaining in office or running for reelection after this? It’s hard to see how.

Finally, here’s Executive Assistant #1’s take on what happened and how she felt about it:

[A]ny time he touched me I felt like it was inappropriate. He was my boss, let alone the Governor of the State of New York, so I definitely felt he abused his power and definitely knew that he had this presence about him, very intimidating, no one ever told him that he was wrong nor were you told to do so. He definitely knew what he was doing was inappropriate. So any time that he would do something to me he knew that at the end of the day if I told anyone, nothing was going to happen to him. If anyone, it was going to happen to me.

Starting today, I think a lot of people are going to tell him he was wrong.