In March, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked the state attorney general, Letitia James, to investigate accusations of sexual harassment and other workplace abuse that had been made against him, it was difficult to imagine him believing that such an inquiry would clear his name. But it bought him time. No sooner had Cuomo referred the matter to James than he and his allies began to dismiss the calls for him to resign or be impeached as “anti-democratic” violations of “due process.” He pleaded with the public to suspend judgment. “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion,” Cuomo said, at a press conference. “The attorney general is doing that review, I will fully coöperate with it, and then you will have the facts.”
On Tuesday, we got the facts. James released a hundred-and-sixty-five-page report detailing the results of her investigators’ five-month probe. Its conclusions are overwhelming and damning. The Governor, the report states, “engaged in conduct constituting sexual harassment under federal and New York State law.” He groped and kissed and touched people without consent, made sexual and offensive comments, and oversaw an office in which a culture of “fear and intimidation” reigned; retaliation was engaged in and condoned. The investigators found eleven women who accused the Governor of inappropriate behavior—including Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, two former aides who, in February, became the first to publicly accuse Cuomo—and found them all credible. Their accounts held up through an inquiry that included interviews with more than a hundred and fifty people and the review of some seventy-four thousand pages of documents. The investigators, meanwhile, deemed the Governor’s denials “contrived” and “inconsistent with the weight of the evidence obtained.”
The report is packed with alarming and previously unreported details. A state trooper told the investigators that she was transferred to the Governor’s protection detail after catching his eye at an event in 2017, despite not having the requisite experience for the job. “Ha ha they changed the minimum from 3 years to 2,” a colleague e-mailed her. “Just for you.” Cuomo subsequently sexually harassed the trooper on the job, running a hand across her belly, a finger across her back, and making comments about her love life and sex drive. A doctor working for the state Department of Health told the investigators that Cuomo made suggestive comments to her before and during a press conference in March, 2020, when she performed a COVID-19 nasal-swab test on the Governor. “Nice to see you, doctor,” Cuomo said, in front of the assembled press. “You make that gown look good.”
The investigators reviewed communications and other material written by the Governor’s aides, and found that his denials rang false even to those around him. “I’m disgusted that Andrew Cuomo—a man who understands subtle power dynamics and power plays better than almost anyone in the planet—is giving this loopy excuse of not knowing he made women feel uncomfortable,” a senior staff member wrote in her diary, in March. “Either he knew exactly what he was doing (likely) or he is so narcissistic that he thought all women wanted these kinds of questions.” After Bennett gave an interview to the Times accusing Cuomo of grooming and propositioning her, the report states, a “former senior staff member” texted a “current senior staff member” to say, “What’s crazy is if you or I did what is alleged we’d be fired on the spot no questions asked . . . and it would be the right thing too.” The report also details the attempts made by Cuomo, his aides, and his allies—including his brother, CNN’s Chris Cuomo—to beat back the story after the allegations came to dominate the news. The investigators, in particular, looked into how the Governor’s office released confidential documents related to Boylan’s time in the administration, and determined that the leak of those documents—which detailed unrelated complaints made against Boylan by other administration employees—constituted “unlawful retaliation.” The focus of Cuomo’s aides and allies, the report states, “was not on determining the truth of Ms. Boylan’s assertions . . . but on protecting the Governor.”
Perhaps the most telling and dismaying detail in the voluminous report appears on the very first page. In a footnote, the investigators explain that many of the people they interviewed, including several of the accusers, “expressed concern and fear over retaliation and requested that, to the extent possible, their identities not be disclosed.” The investigators honored that request. That the Governor of the State of New York has created an atmosphere in which citizens are afraid to speak openly with the state’s top law-enforcement office is an intolerable political situation and a scandal in its own right. The fears of those who requested anonymity are understandable—before the probe was over, no one in New York politics could say for sure that Cuomo would suffer any consequences as a result of it.
Cuomo’s response to the attorney general’s report was characteristically defiant. In a video statement, a few hours after the release of the report, Cuomo denied any wrongdoing. Despite his earlier pleas for people to “wait” for the attorney general’s investigation to conclude, he waved away its significance. “Trial by newspaper or biased reviews are not the way to find the facts in this matter,” he said, before raising the possibility that he would now face legal action from his accusers. “I welcome the opportunity for a full and fair review before a judge and a jury.” This should be considered a laughable attempt to buy time yet again.
For a few months this spring and summer, it looked like perhaps Cuomo’s delaying tactic might actually work. After multiple allegations emerged, New York political figures ranging from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called on him to resign, as did many in the state legislature. But then, as the weeks passed, an uneasy stasis took hold. A state budget got done. The news moved on. The Governor got busy raising money for a reëlection campaign next year. Yet, on Tuesday, within hours of the release of James’s report, there were signs that the stasis might not hold. Joe Biden, who had earlier stopped just short of calling for Cuomo’s ouster, came out against him. “I think he should resign,” the President said on Tuesday afternoon. Eric Adams, the presumptive next mayor of New York, who had stood out during the city’s Democratic mayoral primaries this spring by refusing to call for Cuomo to go, and who appeared with Cuomo at an event a few days ago, issued a statement saying, “It is now the duty of the Assembly to take swift and appropriate action and move forward with impeachment proceedings if the Governor will not resign.” Alphonso David, Cuomo’s former chief counsel, who is now the president of the Human Rights Campaign, tweeted late Tuesday, “After reading the AG’s devastating report that concluded Gov. Cuomo engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment, in violation of both federal and state law, he should resign.”
Cuomo’s statement made it sound like he still has no intention of resigning, which leaves New York State pretty much back where it was at the end of February, before James’s investigation began: waiting to see if the state legislature will move forward with impeachment proceedings. On Tuesday afternoon, Democrats in the State Assembly held a conference call to discuss the situation. Afterward, Carl Heastie, the Assembly speaker, who played a pivotal role this winter in slowing a rush to an impeachment vote, stymying the efforts of Cuomo’s most vocal critics at key junctures, released a statement as unequivocal as any that he has issued since the accusations against Cuomo first became public. “After our conference this afternoon to discuss the Attorney General’s report concerning sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo, it is abundantly clear to me that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office,” Heastie said. “Once we receive all relevant documents and evidence from the Attorney General, we will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible.” Cuomo is likely to keep calling for due process. But many others believe he already got it.