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Cuomo under investigation; Democrats call for his resignation after damning report

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a video statement
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a video statement in response to the findings of an investigation into sexual harassment allegations.
(Office of the New York Governor)

Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, faced mounting calls for his resignation from members of his party, including President Biden, after a report Tuesday found he had sexually harassed 11 women, including government employees, and threatened retaliation against one accuser.

Cuomo’s hold on the governorship, a post he has held for a decade, appeared increasingly precarious after the release of the months-long investigation into allegations of misconduct. The findings opened the floodgates for national Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow Northeastern governors to urge Cuomo to step aside and increased the likelihood the governor would face impeachment by fellow Democrats in the state Legislature if he did not resign voluntarily.

Cuomo could also face legal consequences, after the review concluded he violated both federal and state law, and New York prosecutors have taken steps toward their own investigations.

He remained defiant Tuesday, deflecting the accusations and asserting that there was nothing nefarious about his behavior.

The 63-year-old governor with a storied political lineage and a decades-long presence on the national stage had already weathered one round of condemnations this spring, when several women publicly accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct.

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The pressure to resign grew more forceful after state Atty. Gen. Letitia James’ report. The reproach from Biden — a longtime close ally — from the East Room of the White House marked a new low in Cuomo’s deteriorating political standing, a stark reversal for a man once seen as a potential presidential contender.

“I think he should resign,” Biden said bluntly.

“Cuomo Prime Time” did not cover an investigation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the biggest news story of the day.

The president had said months ago, when the allegations first surfaced, that he would call on Cuomo to resign if an investigation substantiated them. Biden said he had not yet spoken with the governor and declined to address the details of the allegations or to endorse efforts by state lawmakers to impeach him.

“I’ve not read the report. I don’t know the detail of it,” Biden said. “All I know is the end result.”

James’ report, conducted by two independent attorneys, was based on interviews with 179 people. It gave a scathing assessment of Cuomo’s workplace behavior and treatment of women and confirmed the accounts of some accusers who had already gone public, in addition to identifying other instances of harassment.

One newly public allegation was that Cuomo arranged for a female state trooper to be assigned to his personal protective detail despite not having the required experience. According to the report, Cuomo made that trooper uncomfortable on multiple occasions — running his hand or fingers across her stomach and her back, kissing her on the cheek, asking for her help in finding a girlfriend and why she didn’t wear a dress.

“We should believe women ... [and] what we have an obligation and a duty to do is to protect women in their workplace,” James said at a news conference Tuesday morning. “What this investigation revealed was a disturbing pattern of conduct by the governor of the great state of New York.”

David Soares, the district attorney of Albany County, said Tuesday that he is launching a separate criminal investigation into Cuomo’s behavior, while on Wednesday, the top prosecutors of Manhattan and Westchester County said they requested investigatory materials from James to pursue possible probes of their own.

Cuomo had initially appeared to support an independent investigation, urging those clamoring for his resignation to wait until an outside inquiry could assess the merit of the claims against him.

But he has since denounced the investigation as politically biased. Soon after the report was released Tuesday, Cuomo contested its findings, asserting that “the facts are much different from what has been portrayed.”

He framed his tendency toward effusive physical contact as a sign of empathy, not predation.

“I do it with everyone,” Cuomo said in a video he released in his defense showing him embracing numerous people and politicians. “Black and white, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, people who I meet on the street.”

An 85-page statement from his attorney responded point by point to James’ findings, including addressing individual accusations of harassment. Responding to allegations by Charlotte Bennett, a former aide, that the governor made inappropriate comments about her romantic life, Cuomo’s lawyer said his comments reflected concern about her well-being because she is a victim of sexual assault.

James’ findings included an audio clip of Cuomo singing, “Do You Love Me?” by the Contours on the phone with Bennett, who said Tuesday the governor should be impeached if he does not resign.

“He’s trying to justify himself by making him out to be someone who can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and mentorship, and I think that’s absolutely absurd,” Bennett told CBS News.

The lawsuit by the leaders of the recall campaign contends that Newsom’s ballot arguments contain false and misleading information.

The revelations brought new attention to the ongoing impeachment investigation in the state Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, said legislators will conclude the investigation “as quickly as possible” once they receive relevant documents from the attorney general.

“It is abundantly clear to me the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office,” Heastie said in a statement.

Cuomo, who got his start in politics as campaign manager to his father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, has long had a reputation in New York for his bare-knuckled approach to governance. His profile grew at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when his daily briefings on the crisis was a staple of cable television, as were his jocular appearances with his brother, Chris, on the latter’s prime-time CNN show. (James’ report noted that Chris Cuomo was providing strategic public relations advice to his brother; he said in May his involvement was a “mistake.”)

But the praise of the governor’s public messaging during the pandemic was undercut by a series of controversies, including revelations that he signed a $5-million deal for a book on his pandemic leadership, written while the coronavirus remained a threat.

His handling of nursing homes during the pandemic has also been faulted, both for policies that may have exacerbated the spread of the virus and for an apparent effort to obscure the true death toll in such facilities. The federal Justice Department dropped its investigation into the COVID-19 response in nursing homes in New York and other states last week.

The compounding scandals fractured Cuomo’s relationship with many in his party. The state’s two Democratic senators, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, months ago joined other New York Democrats in Congress in calling for Cuomo to resign. They reiterated that position Tuesday.

“No elected official is above the law,” they said in a statement. “The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor’s office.”

Joining the chorus in calling for resignation Tuesday were the Democratic governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, who issued a joint comment saying they were “appalled” by the findings, as well as Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

“As always, I commend the women who came forward to speak their truth,” she said in a statement. “Recognizing his love of New York and the respect for the office he holds, I call upon the Governor to resign.”

It’s unclear whether additional pressure from the highest offices in Washington will be enough to drive Cuomo from office. He has so far shrugged off criticism and continued to raise money to campaign for a fourth term.


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