Gov. Andrew Cuomo harassed several women and cultivated a culture of “fear and intimidation,” according to a report released Tuesday by state Attorney General Letitia James.
The highly anticipated investigation detailed numerous allegations of sexual harassment against the governor by staff members and others. The report concluded that the governor “sexually harassed a number of state employees through unwelcome and unwanted touching, as well as by making numerous offensive and sexually suggestive comments,” and that such behavior extended beyond his staff.
It also found that, in some cases, his office retaliated against those who came forward with allegations.
“I am grateful to all the women who came forward to tell their stories in painstaking detail, enabling investigators to get to the truth,” James said in a statement. “No man — no matter how powerful — can be allowed to harass women or violate our human rights laws, period.”
The 168-page report elicited calls for the governor to resign, many from officials who had previously demanded he do so.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said “it is clear to everyone that he can no longer serve as governor” and that Cuomo should step down for “the good of the state.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called details of the report “gut wrenching,” and said the Judiciary Committee will “undertake an in-depth examination.” Heastie has said that the committee will not move to impeach the governor until it completes its own investigation, which has been ongoing for months.
The governor is seen as an ally of the real estate industry and construction trades, having gone to bat for both on key policies. He set the terms for the renewal of the lucrative property tax break known as 421a, and included a workaround to the city’s emissions cap law, Local Law 97, in a budget proposal that failed to pass this year.
In a recorded statement released Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo denied any illegal acts and said “politics and bias are interwoven” into the attorney general’s report, which was conducted by lawyers that James brought in from outside her office. Cuomo’s staff has been portraying James as interested in replacing Cuomo as governor.
Cuomo reiterated that, like his parents, he greets others with a hug or a kiss to convey “warmth.” During the announcement, Cuomo showed a slideshow of interactions over the years, showing him hugging others or kissing their cheeks and foreheads.
But the report painted a much darker picture of his actions, and found his accusers to be credible and specific in their accounts, unlike Cuomo.
“While the governor denied the most serious allegations, the investigators found that he did so by offering blanket denials or that he had a lack of recollection as to specific incidents,” a summary of the report says.
It notes that the governor’s recollection “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.”
In his recorded statement Tuesday, Cuomo addressed allegations made by former staffer Charlotte Bennett, who accused the governor of making inappropriate comments intended as sexual advances. Cuomo said that he was aware that Bennett was a survivor of sexual assault, and was sorry that he brought his personal life into their conversations, noting that he has a family member who is also a survivor.
He added, however, that Bennett and her attorney “read into” comments that he made and “ascribed motives” that he never had. He also claimed an incident described in the report where he allegedly reached under an aide’s blouse after summoning her to his mansion never happened.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately,” the governor said. “I am 63 years old. I have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am.”
Although the report found that Cuomo violated state and federal laws, no charges have been brought against him.