Cuomo Sex Harassment Scandal Exposes Culture of Bullying and Intimidation

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New York Attorney General Letitia James presents the findings of an independent investigation into accusations by multiple women that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed them on August 3, 2021 in New York City. The report found not only did Cuomo commit acts that meet the standard of sexual harassment under New York criminal code, but his office fostered a culture of bullying and intimidation that enabled his habits.
New York Attorney General Letitia James presents the findings of an independent investigation into accusations by multiple women that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed them on August 3, 2021 in New York City. The report found not only did Cuomo commit acts that meet the standard of sexual harassment under New York criminal code, but his office fostered a culture of bullying and intimidation that enabled his habits. (Image: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

On Aug. 3, New York State Attorney General Letitia James released a 168-page report arising from an investigation into allegations Governor Andrew Cuomo committed professional and personal misconduct with 11 women who came forward earlier in the year to accuse Cuomo of groping, inappropriate comments, and using his position to intimidate.

The report was conclusive: not only did Cuomo commit sexual harassment under the standards of NY State law, but his Executive Chamber protected the Governor by failing to investigate or report allegations as they emerged. Investigators also found the office culture manufactured by the Governor and his inner circle is what created the conditions necessary for harassment to both exist and persist. 

The report says the investigators “interviewed dozens of individuals, who were comprised of complainants, current and former members of the Executive Chamber, State Troopers, other State employees, and others who interacted regularly with the Governor,” while examining “thousands of documents, including emails, texts, and pictures.” 

The AG’s team also took sworn testimony from “the complainants, as well as the Governor, his senior staff and other key advisers, and other potentially relevant witnesses.”

In the end, the report held that Cuomo “engaged in conduct and conversations that were offensive and sexual in nature that constituted sex-based harassment,” but pointedly found the Governor engaged in “offensive touching” with three women:

  • Executive Assistant #1 – Refers to an executive assistant under Cuomo’s direct employ. In what appears to be a systemic case of lewd conduct, Cuomo referred to the woman and another assistant in the office as “mingle mammas.” For specific infractions, in November of 2020, Cuomo hugged the woman and “then reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast,” while at various dates in 2019 and 2020 Cuomo continued to encourage the staffer to hug him, where he “on occasion, grabbed her butt,” on New Year’s Eve 2019, Cuomo took a “selfie” with the assistant, during which “he put his hand on and then rubbed and grabbed her butt.”
  • Trooper #1 – Refers to a New York State Trooper who was assigned to Cuomo’s Protective Services Unit (PSU), a unit within the NY State Police assigned to guard the Governor. Investigators held that Cuomo “On one occasion…ran his finger down the center of Trooper #1’s back from the top of her neck down the center of her spine, while saying, ‘hey you’,” while at a 2019 event, Cuomo “touched Trooper #1 on the stomach, running his hand across it from her belly button to her right hip while she was holding a door open for him.”
  • State Entity Employee #1 – Refers to an employee of a “state-affiliated entity” not directly under Cuomo’s employ. At a 2019 event where Cuomo spoke and then gave photo opportunities to several attendees, “the Governor grabbed the butt of an employee of a State entity while having his picture taken with the employee.”

In Cuomo’s testimony given to the investigation, he denied wrongdoing in all three instances. In the case of Executive Assistant #1, Cuomo submitted the testimony that, “He did regularly hug her, but claimed that it was Executive Assistant #1 who was the ‘initiator of the hugs,’ while he was ‘more in the reciprocal business’.”

Cuomo also said all complainants, “Were— and must be—motivated by politics, animosity, or some other reason,” and that both the investigation and investigators, “Were politically motivated, an assertion that we saw in the documentary evidence and other witnesses’ testimony was part of the planned response to the investigation almost as soon as it commenced.”

The investigators weren’t convinced, saying they “found his denials to lack credibility and to be inconsistent with the weight of the evidence obtained during our investigation.” They felt Cuomo’s “denials and explanations around specific allegations to be contrived.”

“The Governor’s blanket denials and lack of recollection as to specific incidents stood in stark contrast to the strength, specificity, and corroboration of the complainants’ recollections, as well as the reports of many other individuals who offered observations and experiences of the Governor’s conduct.”

‘If I told anyone, nothing was going to happen to him.’

As for victim impact, Executive Assistant #1 told the investigators she felt both helpless and intimidated, “[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.” 

Trooper #1 similarly told the panel she felt she was left high and dry by her department because even they were too afraid of Cuomo’s power, “I feel like they [PSU leadership] don’t even want to ask because nobody wants to be in the line of fire of the Governor.”

“Everyone knows he’s very vindictive…I’m nervous that the Governor’s going to know I spoke out, and I’m going to be retaliated against, you know…And everybody, for the most part, gets promoted because they’re in the good graces of the Governor. So if they stay quiet or give him information, they’ll get promoted, or something good will happen to them. That’s just like the culture again in PSU.”

The report continues with a blistering indictment of Cuomo’s Chamber, describing it as a culture manufactured to be “rife with fear and intimidation and accompanied by a consistent overlooking of inappropriate flirtations and other sexually suggestive and gender-based comments by the Governor.”

The AG’s office found the Chamber “failed to follow its own policies and procedures related to sexual harassment in responding to several of the complaints” and created an “overall culture that allowed the Governor’s harassing behavior to occur and enabled it to continue.”

They note the Chamber had “robust” written policies against sexual harassment consistent with NY State law, yet failed to follow them in practice. In an example, they note that in 2018, Cuomo signed Executive Order 187, which required all investigations into complaints in any office over which the Governor has authority to be conducted by the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER).

GOER has an established process to retain an external law firm to conduct investigations, complete with a full discovery process. 

Investigators found to the contrary, “The policies were not followed with respect to the allegations of misconduct against the Governor until after our investigation began and public scrutiny was focused on allegations of sexual harassment against the Governor.”

Party-wide condemnation

The revelations have left Cuomo without support both inside the Democrat ranks and out. Albany County District Attorney Soares told NBC his office had opened an independent investigation and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN Cuomo should “be impeached as quickly as possible.”

De Blasio called the report’s revelations, “Textbook sexual harassment.” He continued, “And then unfortunately, making it worse, in some cases, even sexual assault, disgusting and troubling and unacceptable and he needs to leave office immediately.”

“He should resign. If he won’t resign, he should be impeached as quickly as possible by the state legislature. He can’t govern. He can’t govern…this was one investigation. There’s a whole separate series of issues around the nursing home scandal, whether the facts of all those deaths in the nursing homes due to COVID was covered up.”

New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a fellow Democrat, also called for Cuomo to immediately tender his resignation in comments to CNN, adding she was prepared to force the issue if he did not, “Well, I would certainly support the Assembly moving forward on impeachment. It does not happen — it’s very much like the Congress. The Senate — so, the Senate would act on the impeachment. But certainly, I think the Assembly will take a look at the facts, and hopefully, if that’s the way to do it, then move forward with that”

Cuomo released an almost-13-minute video response, where he defiantly refused to resign, asking New Yorkers to read his side of the story released in an internal investigation earlier this year, “Please take the time to read the facts and decide for yourself…I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”

President Joe Biden also told reporters Cuomo should resign after the report was released, but noted he had not yet spoken to the Governor himself or read AG James’s investigation.

Biden’s comments come after a March interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos where the President said if the investigation found Cuomo committed sexual harassment, Cuomo should resign.

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.