Gov. Andrew Cuomo violated federal and state laws by sexually harassing multiple women — including current and former state employees — through actions that included touching their “intimate body parts” without consent, officials said Tuesday.
Cuomo and his team also allegedly retaliated against at least one victim and created a “toxic” and hostile work environment in the Executive Chamber, officials said.
The blockbuster announcements came during a news conference at which state Attorney General Letitia James said an independent probe she commissioned had found that Cuomo engaged in “unwanted groping, kissing, hugging and making inappropriate comments.”
James called it “a sad day for New York” and said it was up to Cuomo to decide whether to resign, as has been demanded by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
James — who said 179 witnesses were interviewed, including Cuomo — released a 168-page report, with three appendices containing more than 450 pages of exhibits that include hand-written notes, emails and text messages documenting the governor’s alleged misbehavior.
“These interviews and pieces of evidence revealed a deeply disturbing yet clear picture: Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws,” she said.
James said the issuance of the report closed her investigation and she didn’t say anything about referring Cuomo for potential prosecution.
But one of the lawyers James hired to lead the investigation, Anne Clark, noted that the Albany Police Department had already been notified by Cuomo’s office about an accusation that he groped a female aide in his Executive Mansion in Albany last year.
That allegation is the most serious made against him but it’s unclear if the alleged victim has cooperated with cops.
Clark also said the alleged victims were all free to file civil suits against Cuomo.
The sex harassment scandal is also part of a wide-ranging impeachment investigation by the state Assembly’s Judiciary Committee and Cuomo is under investigation by the FBI and the Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office for his handling of nursing homes amid COVID-19 pandemic, including the cover-up of total resident deaths from the disease.
The AG’s probe involved accusations that Cuomo, 63, sexually harassed several current and former female staffers, most of whom are in their 20s or 30s, as well as other women outside government.
Investigators gathered evidence from 11 women, nine of whom are or were state employees, said former acting Manhattan US Attorney Joon Kim, the other outside lawyer who led the probe.
Kim revealed that one alleged victim is a state trooper who served on Cuomo’s security detail.
The trooper told the investigators that while she was holding a door open for Cuomo, he passed by and ran his open hand against her stomach, Clark said.
“She told us she felt completely violated,” Clark said.
Clark also said that after Cuomo, a three-term Democrat, “had become single, he asked the trooper how old she was when she responded she was in her late 20s, he said that’s too old for him.”
“He then asked her how much of an age difference he thought he could have between him and a girlfriend, and have the public still accept it,” Clark said.
When the trooper tried “to deflect the conversation by asking the governor what he was looking for in a girlfriend, he responded that he was looking for somebody who could handle pain,” Clark said.
“Another time, when the governor found out that the trooper was engaged, he asked her why she wanted to get married because, among other things, your sex drive goes down.”
In a written statement, the head of the troopers union, Thomas Mungeer, said, “I’m outraged and disgusted that one of my members, who was tasked with guarding the governor and ensuring his safety, could not enjoy the same sense of security in her work environment that he was provided.”
The woman who has accused Cuomo of groping her told investigators that Cuomo had “engaged in a pattern of inappropriate conduct” with her since late 2019 that included “close and intimate hugs,” kisses on her cheeks, forehead and at least one on her lips, and repeated touching of her rear end, according to the report.
Cuomo’s alleged misconduct also included asking the unidentified woman whether she had or would cheat on her husband and asking her for help finding him a girlfriend, according to the report.
“These offensive interactions, among others, culminated in an incident at the Executive Mansion in November 2020 when the Governor, during another close hug … reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast,” the report said.
Although the woman told investigators she kept the incident to herself and planned to take it “to the grave,” she got upset while watching Cuomo publicly deny having “touched anyone inappropriately” and confided in some co-workers who relayed her allegations to senior staffers, the report said.
The report also revealed that Cuomo allegedly ran his fingers across the chest of a woman during a May 2017 event in upstate New York where he spoke and greeted attendees afterward.
The woman, Virginia Limmiatis, was wearing a shirt with the name of her employer across it and Cuomo allegedly pressed down on each letter as he read it aloud.
“The Governor then leaned in, with his face close to Ms. Limmiatis’s cheek, and said, ‘I’m going to say I see a spider on your shoulder,’ before brushing his hand in the area between her shoulder and breasts (and below her collarbone),” according to the report.
Limmiatis reached out to investigators after the March 3 news conference at which Cuomo denied touching anyone inappropriately and told them, “I am compelled to come forward to tell the truth.”
“I didn’t know how to report what he did to me at the time and was burdened by shame, but not coming forward now would make me complicit in his lie, and I won’t do it,” she added, according to the report.
Cuomo also allegedly told a then-aide, Charlotte Bennett, that she looked like “Daisy Duke,” from the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
“He suggested that she get a tattoo she was contemplating on her and asked her if she had any piercings anywhere other than her ears,” Clark said.
Kim said that two women described a work event where a staffer sat on Cuomo’s lap and that another recalled him kissing her on the lips.
Bennett, who detailed her allegations against Cuomo in an extensive interview with CBS News, responded to the conclusion of the probe by tweeting, “Resign, @NYGovCuomo.”
One woman described her interactions with Cuomo as “strange and uncomfortable” and “like ‘The Twilight Zone,” saying that “Typical rules do not apply, you should view it as a compliment,” Kim said.
“Another complainant testified and I quote, ‘What makes it so hard to describe every single inappropriate incident is the culture of the place. On the one hand, he makes all this inappropriate and creepy behavior normal, and, like, you should not complain,’” Kim said.
“‘On the other hand, you see people getting punished and screamed at for anything if you disagree with him or his top aides.’”
When Cuomo was interviewed under oath, Kim said, he “testified that those things may have happened with senior staffers.”
At several points during the July 17 session — which was recorded on video — Cuomo angrily confronted Kim over his role in previous federal investigations of the governor and his allies, the New York Times reported Monday.
Last week, several lawyers involved in the investigation also toured the Executive Mansion and Cuomo’s offices in the state Capitol, where the alleged harassment is said to have taken place, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing two people familiar with the inquiry.
Cuomo has apologized for acting “in a way that made people feel uncomfortable” but has repeatedly denied having “touched anyone inappropriately” or engaged in other misconduct.
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