Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York state, faced demands to resign on Tuesday after an investigation found that he sexually harassed 11 women, created a “climate of fear” in a “toxic” workplace and violated federal and state civil laws.
An explosive 165-page report released by the state attorney general, Letitia James, delivered a mountain of damning and often graphic evidence that threatened to bring down Cuomo, a leading figure in the Democratic party who served in president Bill Clinton’s cabinet.
Among the allegations was that Cuomo, 63, reached under the blouse of an executive assistant and grabbed her breast, and that he ran his finger down the spine of a female state trooper assigned to protect him.
But the governor released a defiant video address on Tuesday, insisting “that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances” and making clear that he still has no intention of stepping down.
Cuomo, the son of three-term New York governor Mario Cuomo, became a political star through televised daily briefings during the early months of the pandemic but was tarnished by accusations that he misreported the numbers of deaths in nursing homes.
He faced calls to quit when two former aides accused him of sexually harassing them in the workplace and several more women then came forward with accusations of misconduct, prompting James’s five-month investigation.
Announcing its findings at a press conference on Tuesday, the attorney general said: “Specifically, the investigation found that Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.”
James added: “This investigation has revealed conduct that corrodes the very fabric and character of our state government and shines light on injustice that can be present at the highest levels of government. But none of this, none of this would have been illuminated if not for the heroic women who came forward.”
James’s investigators, Joon Kim and Anne Clark, spoke to 179 people, including complainants and current and former members of the New York executive chamber, and reviewed more than 74,000 documents, emails, texts, and pictures.
Their work resulted in a “deeply disturbing yet clear picture” of what James called a “toxic workplace” and a “climate of fear” in which Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of them young, “by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging and by making inappropriate comments”.
The women found this behaviour “deeply humiliating, uncomfortable, offensive, or inappropriate,” James said.
Some incidents “involved intentional touching and grabbing of private parts, including the butt and the breast”, the report said. An executive assistant alleged that Cuomo “reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast”.
In another incident, Cuomo inappropriately touched a female state trooper whom he arranged to be put on his security detail, “running his finger down her back, from the top of her neck down her spine to the middle of her back, saying ‘hey, you,’ while she was standing in front of him in an elevator”, the report said.
The report described an atmosphere “rife with fear and intimidation” in the governor’s offices in the state capitol, Albany.
Kim told the press conference: “It was a culture where you could not say ‘no’ to the governor and if you upset him or his senior staff you would be written off, cast aside or worse.”
Cuomo and his team retaliated against at least one former employee for complaining about his conduct, James added.
She stopped short of calling for him to face criminal prosecution but said the accusers can make their own decision over whether to bring civil lawsuits. The report concluded that he violated civil laws against workplace harassment.
Asked whether Cuomo should resign, the attorney general replied: “That decision is going to be up to the governor of the state of New York. The report speaks for itself.”
But several New York Democrats, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressmen Hakeem Jeffries and Mondaire Jones, called on Cuomo to quit. Gillibrand called the report “deeply, deeply disturbing”.
Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City and a longtime political foe of the governor, despite their being fellow Democrats, said: “I’ll state the obvious: the summary you just gave represents behaviour that’s unacceptable.
“Unacceptable in anyone, let alone a public servant. I’ve be very clear about that fact that what we’ve seen is disqualifying.”
Republicans seized on the findings. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York, the highest ranking Republican woman in the House of Representatives, said: “No one is above the law and today justice must be served. Governor Cuomo must resign and be arrested immediately. President Joe Biden must immediately call for Cuomo’s resignation.”
Last winter there were calls for Cuomo’s resignation from many top elected Democrats in New York Many said his position was no longer tenable in the era of the #MeToo movement.
Asked in a TV interview in March whether Cuomo should resign if an investigation bolstered allegations of sexual harassment against him. Joe Biden replied: “Yes. I think he’ll probably end up being prosecuted, too.”
But the governor refused to stand down and has been raising money to run for a fourth term in office, apparently determined to brazen out the storm. The attorney general’s report, however, could prove crucial to an inquiry in the state assembly into whether there are grounds for Cuomo to be impeached.
As part of the investigation, Cuomo sat with the interviewers and answered questions under oath, the attorney general said.
James noted that there were significant levels of corroboration and other supporting evidence relating to the allegations.
“I believe these 11 women,” she said.
In his video statement from Albany on Tuesday, Cuomo responded to some of his accusers directly and claimed his actions had been misinterpreted.
“The facts are much different than what has been portrayed,” he said. “First, I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances. I am 63 years old, I have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am and that is not who I have ever been.”
The governor showed numerous photos of himself kissing men and women in public settings and claimed he was merely being affectionate.
He added: “I do kiss people on the forehead. I do kiss people on the cheek. I do kiss people on the hand. I do embrace people. I do hug the people, men and women. I do on occasion say, ‘Ciao bella’. On occasion I do slip and say sweetheart or darling or honey, I do banter with people. I do tell jokes, some better than others.”