“We find all 11 women to be credible,” said Ann L Clark, at a press conference on Tuesday. Clark, an employment attorney, is one of the independent lawyers brought on to conduct New York attorney general Letitia James’ investigation into sexual harassment claims against governor Andrew Cuomo. Her statement was made as part of the release of a 165-page report by the attorney general’s office, a fact-finding investigation that determined that the governor had behaved in abusive, harassing, and illegal ways towards women subordinates. The report corroborated accounts from almost a dozen women, including nine current and former employees of the governor’s office, one state trooper, and one employee of the energy utility National Grid. The report found that Cuomo not only personally sexually harassed women, but that he created a hostile work environment, and used his office in an attempt to silence and punish his accusers, all of which violate both federal and New York State civil rights laws. The report is the product of a months-long investigation, which included interviews with 179 people, review of 74,000 documents, and 11 hours of sworn testimony from Cuomo himself.
The report confirms accounts from former aides, including Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, who described a high-pressure environment (“rife with fear and intimidation,” in the words of the report) in which pleasing the governor was paramount, and where vulgar overtures, prying queries into their personal lives, and unsolicited physical contact were common. The attorney general’s office lent credence to Boylan’s account of being harassed and forcibly kissed by the governor. The report also notes the copious evidence supporting the accusations made by Bennett, a very young aide to whom the governor expressed sexual interest in unambiguous terms, asking if she was monogamous or if she slept with older men. Bennett’s account, the report says, matches the contemporaneous notes made by the officials she complained to, as well as her own statements to the press and near-contemporaneous texts she sent to friends and loved ones describing her distress at Cuomo’s behavior. The report also corroborates an account from an aide, whose identity has not been made public, who claims that the governor reached under her blouse and groped her breast at the governor’s mansion. That incident has been reported to Albany police.
The James report also reveals new accusations against Cuomo. A female state trooper assigned to his security detail says he touched her stomach in one instance, and ran his finger down her spine while saying “Hey, you” in another. She says he kissed her on the cheek in front of her coworkers, an indignity that male troopers were not subjected to, and remarked that if she got married, it would decrease her sex drive. The trooper alleges that Cuomo, who is 63, told her he was looking for a girlfriend in her 20s who “could handle pain”. All of this happened while the trooper was responsible for Cuomo’s safety and protection.
Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing, alleging in his own press conference on Tuesday that the attorney general’s investigation was biased, that he has never touched anyone inappropriately, that he offers unsolicited kisses to many people regardless of their sex, and that Bennett, the young aide who accused him of harassment, misinterpreted his comments due to her past history of sexual assault. The attorney general’s report said that investigators found Cuomo’s denials to “lack credibility and to be inconsistent with the weight of the evidence obtained during our investigation.”
Cuomo is reckless, disrespectful, misogynist, and allergic to taking responsibility
The report offers a damning and comprehensive view of Cuomo’s office culture, one in which women’s boundaries were crossed, the governor’s whims were indulged, and employees’ dignity was routinely insulted for Cuomo’s amusement. But it almost didn’t get written at all. After the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo became public earlier this year, the governor refused to resign – even as many state legislators and nearly all of New York’s congressional delegation called to do so. When an independent investigation was proposed, Cuomo tried to assign the inquiry to judges he appointed, possibly in an effort to influence its outcome. The elected attorney general had to fight for jurisdiction in order to deliver an independent investigation.
Cuomo has clung to power over the past year even as his administration has been enveloped in other scandals. There was the revelation that during the pandemic, he used state employees to help him write the splashy, self-congratulatory memoir for which he was handsomely paid. More disturbingly, there was the news that after a mistake in pandemic management cost thousands of senior citizens their lives, the governor’s office fudged the data on nursing home deaths, hoping to dodge responsibility. These scandals, too, point toward the same attitude by the governor as the alleged butt-grabbing and crude, adolescent boorishness outlined in the report do: the idea of power not as a responsibility to others, but as a license to do whatever he wants.
The governor is not civically minded; he is not responsible with his office. He is reckless, disrespectful, misogynist, and allergic to taking responsibility. He has demonstrated not merely an unfitness for power, but a personal moral vacuity – an unwillingness to think of other people, of women, as equals, or to imagine his own actions as having consequences. Cuomo has tremendous ego, but he seems to lack self-respect.
Moira Donegan is a Guardian US columnist