Report by independent investigators find NYS governor sexually harassed multiple women from 2013 through 2020
√ Report: Sexual harassment included unwanted and inappropriate groping, kissing, hugging and comments that accusers called ‘deeply humiliating, uncomfortable, offensive, or inappropriate’; executive chamber ‘rife with fear and intimidation,’ enabled 'harassment to occur and created a hostile work environment’
√ Cuomo denies wrongdoing, says attacks politically motivated
The following information was submitted by the Office of New York Attorney General Letitia James:
The independent investigators appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James – led by Joon H. Kim and Anne L. Clark – on Tuesday released their report into the multiple allegations of sexual harassment by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. After nearly five months, the investigators concluded that Gov. Cuomo did sexually harass multiple women – including former and current state employees – by engaging in unwanted groping, kissing and hugging, and making inappropriate comments. Further, the governor and his senior staff took actions to retaliate against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story. Finally, the executive chamber fostered a “toxic” workplace that enabled “harassment to occur and created a hostile work environment.” The investigators find that Gov. Cuomo’s actions and those of the executive chamber violated multiple state and federal laws, as well as the executive chamber’s own written policies.
The investigation was conducted after, on March 1, 2021, the executive chamber made a referral, pursuant to New York Executive Law Section 63(8), for Attorney General James to select independent lawyers to investigate “allegations of and circumstances surrounding sexual harassment claims made against the governor.” Kim and Clark were chosen to lead the investigation on March 8, 2021.
“This is a sad day for New York because independent investigators have concluded that Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and, in doing so, broke the law,” James said. “I am grateful to all the women who came forward to tell their stories in painstaking detail, enabling investigators to get to the truth. No man – no matter how powerful – can be allowed to harass women or violate our human rights laws, period.”
Starting in December 2020, multiple women came forward with allegations that Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed them. Over the course of the investigation, the investigators interviewed 179 individuals. Those interviewed included complainants, current and former members of the executive chamber, State Troopers, additional state employees, and others who interacted regularly with the governor. More than 74,000 documents, emails, texts and pictures were also reviewed as evidence during the investigation.
Backed up by corroborating evidence and credible witnesses, the investigators detail multiple current or former New York state employees or women outside state service who were the targets of harassing conduct on the part of the governor.
As part of the investigation, Cuomo also sat with the interviewers and answered questions under oath. While the governor denied the most serious allegations, the investigators found he did so by offering “blanket denials” or that he had a “lack of recollection as to specific incidents.” The investigators also found 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.”
Additionally, the investigators found the executive chamber was “rife with fear and intimidation” that not only “enabled the above-described instances of harassment to occur,” but also “created a hostile work environment overall.” Further, Cuomo, himself, and the executive chamber engaged in “retaliatory” behavior by “intend[ing] to discredit and disparage” a former employee that came forward with her story of harassment.
The investigation found Cuomo’s sexual harassment of multiple women and his and the executive chamber’s retaliation against a former employee for coming forward with her claims of sexual harassment violated multiple state and federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and 42 U.S. Code § 1983, in addition to the executive chamber’s own equal employment policies.
Jennifer Kennedy Park, Abena Mainoo and Rahul Mukhi from the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP were all deputized – in addition to Joon H. Kim – as special deputies to the first deputy attorney general to conduct the investigation and issue this report. Yannick Grant from the law firm Vladeck, Raskin & Clark, P.C. was deputized – in addition to Anne L. Clark – as a special deputy to the first deputy attorney general to conduct the investigation and issue this report. A number of other attorneys from both Cleary Gottlieb and Vladeck were appointed as special assistants to the first deputy attorney general to assist with the investigation.
In a taped video message posted Tuesday afternoon on his website, Cuomo emphatically denied any wrongdoing. He showed several images of kissing and hugging people over the years, noting it was his means of greeting.
Cuomo stated, “Over the past several months, you have heard a number of complaints brought against me. I called for an independent review, and I said at the beginning, I would let the process unfold. I didn't want anyone to say that I interfered. I said I would hold my tongue and I have – making only limited comments.
“It has been a hard and a painful period for me and my family. Especially as others feed ugly stories to the press, but I cooperated with the review and I can now finally share the truth. My attorney, who was a nonpolitical, former federal prosecutor, has done a response to each allegation and the facts are much different than what has been portrayed.
“That document is available on my website. If you are interested, please take the time to read the facts and decide for yourself.
“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's not who I have ever been.
“There is one complaint that has been made that bothered me most. That was a complaint made by a young woman, Charlotte Bennett, who worked in my office. And it's important to me that you fully understand the situation.
“Charlotte worked in my office last year as an assistant. She was smart, talented, and eager to learn. She identified herself to me as a survivor of sexual assault. She said that she came to work in my administration because of all the progress we had made in fighting sexual assault. She talked about the personal trauma that she endured and how she was handling it.
“I could see how it affected her. I could see her pain. People now ask me, why was I even talking to this young woman? If I knew she was dealing with such issues, why did I even engage with her? That is the obvious and fair question, and one I have thought a lot about.
“The truth is that her story resonated deeply with me. I had heard the same story before with the same ugliness, the same injustice, the same damage. Not only had I heard this story before, I had lived with this story before. My own family member is a survivor of sexual assault in high school. I have watched her live and suffer with the trauma. I would do anything to make it go away for her, but it never really goes away.
“I spent countless days and nights working through these issues with her and therapists and counselors. I'm governor of the state of New York, but I felt powerless to help and felt that I had failed her. I couldn't take the pain away. I still can't and this young woman brought it all back. She's about the same age.
“I thought I had learned a lot about the issue from my family's experience. I thought I could help her work through a difficult time. I did ask her questions I don't normally ask people. I did ask her how she was doing and how she was feeling. And I did ask questions to try to see if she had positive supportive dating relationships.
“I know too well, the manifestations of sexual assault trauma and the damage that it can do in the aftermath. I was trying to make sure she was working her way through it the best she could. I thought I had learned enough and had enough personal experience to help. But I was wrong.
“I have heard Charlotte and her lawyer and I understand what they are saying, but they read into comments that I made and draw inferences that I never meant. They ascribe motives I never had. And simply put, they heard things that I just didn't say.
“Charlotte, I want you to know that I am truly and deeply sorry. I brought my personal experience into the workplace and I shouldn't have done that. I was trying to help – obviously I didn't. I am even more sorry that I further complicated the situation. My goal was the exact opposite. I wish nothing but good for you, and for all survivors of sexual assault.
“There is another complaint that I want to address from a woman in my office who said that I groped her in my home office. Let me be clear. That never happened. She wants anonymity and I respect that. So, I am limited of what I can say, but her lawyer has suggested that she will file a legal claim for damages. That will be decided in a court of law. Trial by newspaper or biased reviews are not the way to find the facts in this matter. I welcome the opportunity for a full and fair review before a judge and a jury, because this just did not happen.
“Other complainants raised against me questions that have sought to unfairly characterize and weaponize everyday interactions that I've had with any number of New Yorkers.
“The New York Times published a front-page picture of me touching a woman's face at a wedding, and then kissing her on the cheek. That is not front-page news. I've been making the same gesture in public all my life. I actually learned it from my mother and from my father. It is meant to convey warmth, nothing more.
“Indeed, there are hundreds, if not thousands of photos of me using the exact same gesture. I do it with everyone. Black and white, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, people who I meet on the street after the event.
“The woman told the press that she took offense at the gesture. And for that, I apologize. Another woman stated that I kissed her on the forehead at our Christmas party and that I said, ‘ciao Bella.’ Now, I don't remember doing it, but I'm sure that I did. 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 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. I am the same person in public as I am in private. You have seen me do it on TV, through all my briefings, and for 40 years before that.
“I try to put people at ease. I try to make them smile. I try to connect with them, and I try to show my appreciation and my friendship. I now understand that there are generational or cultural perspectives that, frankly, I hadn't fully appreciated. And I have learned from this.
“Now, the state already has an advanced sexual harassment training program for all employees, including me, but I want New York state government to be a model of office behavior, and I brought in an expert to design a new sexual harassment policy and procedures, and to train the whole team, myself included. I accept responsibility and we are making changes.
“Other complaints relate to the work environment. Now, I have always said, my office is a demanding place to work and that it is not for everyone. We work really, really hard. My office is no typical 9 to 5 government office, and I don't want it to be – the stakes we deal with are very high. Sometimes even life and death. We have to get the job done. I promised you that I would, and I will.
“But now a number of complaints target female managers, which smacks to me of a double-standard. First, when have you ever seen male managers maligned and villainized for working long hours or holding people accountable or for being tough? A strong male manager is respected and rewarded. But a strong female manager is ridiculed and stereotyped. It is a double-standard. It is sexist and it must be challenged.
“Also, remember where we are. Today we are living in a superheated, if not toxic political environment – that shouldn't be lost on anyone. Politics and bias are interwoven throughout every aspect of this situation. One would be naive to think otherwise, and New Yorkers are not naive.
“I understand these dynamics. My father used to say, God rest his soul, that politics is an ugly business. As usual he was right. But for my father and for me, it's worth it, because despite it all, at the end of the day, we get good things done for people. And that is what really matters. And for those who are using this moment to score political points or seek publicity or personal gain, I say they actually discredit the legitimate sexual harassment victims that the law was designed to protect.
“My last point is this: I say to my daughters all the time that as complicated as life gets is as simple as life is. My job is not about me, my job is about you. What matters to me at the end of the day is getting the most done I can for you.
“And that is what I do every day. And I will not be distracted from that job. We have a lot to do. We still have to manage the COVID beast. It is not dead yet. It's not over. We then have to reopen and reimagine our state. Because our future is going to be what we make it. I know we can do these things because I know the strength and the character of New Yorkers. Look at the progress we made on COVID – it is amazing. We went from the highest infection rate in the country to one of the lowest infection rates in the country. Nobody thought that we could do it, but New Yorkers did it. That shows that there's nothing that we can't do when we work together. Together, together as one, as one community, as one family, as New Yorkers, we will.”
Cuomo’s attorney, Rita Glavin of Glavin PLLC, released a detailed response to the independent reviewer report on allegations against the governor. The position statement can be viewed HERE.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, “We have received the attorney general's 168-page report containing findings of sexual harassment and misconduct committed by Gov. Cuomo. The findings contained in the report are disturbing. The details provided by the victims are gut-wrenching. Our hearts go out to all the individuals who have had to endure this horrible experience. The conduct by the governor outlined in this report would indicate someone who is not fit for office.
“The report has been forwarded to the members of the judiciary committee as well as all members of the Assembly. We will now undertake an in-depth examination of the report and its corresponding exhibits with our Assembly counsels as well the legal firm we have retained to assist us.
“We will have more to say in the very near future.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any workplace, and certainly not in public service. The attorney general’s investigation has documented repulsive and unlawful behavior by the governor towards multiple women. I believe these brave women and admire their courage coming forward.
"No one is above the law. Under the New York Constitution, the Assembly will now determine the next steps.
"Because lieutenant governors stand next in the line of succession, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the process at this moment.”
New York State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said, “Today is a sad and sobering day for all New Yorkers. The attorney general’s findings confirm and reinforce the allegations brought by the brave women who came forward against a powerful figure – that Andrew Cuomo is a serial harasser, unfit to hold public office. In the wake of another devastating report, now more than ever Andrew Cuomo must resign. If he fails to do so, the Legislature must immediately reconvene to take action to remove him.
“New Yorkers have already been subjected to far too many lies, scandals and misdeeds perpetrated by this governor and his associates. It is time to bring this sad, tawdry and corrupt chapter in New York’s history to a close, and to restore decency, honesty and accountability to our state’s highest office. New York is facing profound challenges, ranging from a wave of violence in our streets, to a badly battered economy. To effectively address these challenges, we need a change in leadership as quickly as possible.
“I must also commend the attorney general and her team for refusing to be intimidated by this governor. From the very beginning, Andrew Cuomo and his associates attempted to bully, undercut, and undermine the attorney general – all as part of an effort to prevent her from doing her job. From attempting to block the initial referral to the attorney general’s office, to the intimidation of potential witnesses, to the blatant attempts to smear her integrity and motivations, this governor left no stone unturned in his efforts to prevent the truth from being discovered.
“While this will undoubtedly go down as a dark day in New York’s history, we must now take steps to ensure that it will also be remembered as an important turning point that restores accountability and trustworthiness to state government.”
Assemblyman Angelo Morinello said, “What we have surmised for months has unfortunately been confirmed. The findings in the attorney general’s report are deeply disturbing and troubling. They detail systemic abuse and misconduct in the executive chamber. That the governor has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing for months underscores a longtime pattern of dishonesty from this administration.
“No woman or man should ever feel unsafe or in fear for their mental or physical health at their place of work. I pray for the victims, and I commend their unwavering bravery and pursuit of justice. The governor must step down immediately. It is impossible for him to focus on running the state while trying to protect and repair his reputation. If he won’t, the Assembly must push forward with impeachment and remove him ourselves.”
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said, "This is a sad day for New York. The attorney general's report documents unacceptable workplace behavior in the executive chamber at the highest level of state leadership. The women who came forward are courageous, and they have been heard. As I stated months ago, the governor should step down."
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “From the beginning, when accusations of sexual harassment against Gov. Cuomo first surfaced, I called for an independent investigation to be conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and recommended waiting until the completion of that investigation before offering any comment on the merit of the claims.
“The investigation into these accusations has concluded with a report, announced today by NYS Attorney General James, that not only confirmed many of the previous allegations but also identified others that had not been known and were corroborated by witnesses. Sexual harassment in any form can never be tolerated. Based on the thorough, detailed nature of the report and the corroborated findings of sexual harassment and a toxic work environment presented therein, Gov. Cuomo must resign.”
Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said, “While the findings of the attorney general’s report are deeply disturbing and confirm Gov. Cuomo violated state and federal laws, they should not come as a surprise to anyone. For months, we have heard the testimonies of multiple women who bravely detailed the horrific abuse and assaults perpetrated on them by this governor and covered up by his administration.
“Sadly, this pattern of sexual harassment and abuse is only one chapter in the Cuomo book of corruption, law-breaking and sociopathic behavior. Countless lives have been destroyed by his actions throughout his tenure, but now is the moment where he must finally be held accountable.
“I called for Gov. Cuomo’s impeachment on Feb. 11, and I renew that call today. If he does not immediately resign, Speaker Carl Heastie must call for a special session to bring articles of impeachment to the floor for an up or down vote. Democrats in Albany have been protecting him for too long – time is up.”
Conservative Party Chairman Gerard Kassar said, “Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a sexual predator and he needs to resign today. Attorney General Letitia’s report makes that clear. Anything but his resignation is unacceptable to the people of New York state.”
Course of Action
So, what happens next?
Later in the day, Heastie stated, “After our conference this afternoon to discuss the attorney general's report concerning sexual harassment allegations against Gov. 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.
“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.”