Just a few days after she began working in Andrew Cuomo’s executive chamber, former press officer Cassie Moreno was startled when the first of nearly a dozen women came forward to accuse the New York governor of sexual misconduct.
But it didn’t take long before Moreno, who worked in the chamber for just two months before quitting due to the toxic work culture, discovered for herself that Cuomo’s office was “an environment of control unlike anything you can even picture,” she said.
“I wanted it to work out so badly,” the 25-year-old told The Daily Beast in an interview Tuesday, the same day the New York State Attorney General’s office said it had concluded Cuomo violated state and federal laws by sexually harassing current and former employees. “This was someone who theoretically had led the United States through the pandemic at the time, that was the framing.”
Although Moreno was not the victim of sexual misconduct, she said from her first days in the office in December of last year, it quickly became clear that her new workplace would be demanding, with long hours and expectations to haul her laptop everywhere she went, including the grocery store.
“It was a very Big Brother-style office,” Moreno said.
“Every move you made was monitored,” she added. “It was not an environment where senior staff were looking out for younger staff.”
After Lindsey Boylan spoke out against Cuomo, accusing him of sexually harassing her “for years,” Moreno said that at least once she tried to discuss the claims with a female colleague who told her: “As far as I’m concerned Lindsey Boylan is a liar.”
The dismissive response, Moreno said, indicated to her that in order to fit into the office, she needed to cultivate her own venom against the Cuomo accuser.
“That was then another sign, to work here you have to hate Lindsey Boylan. Step one,” she said.
The former deputy press secretary also said that part of her job in the mornings included collecting press clips of TV hits that had happened overnight, and said that “allegation-related content” relating to Boylan’s claims went in its own section.
If any new article had emerged, Moreno said that she and a cohort of five other deputy press secretaries were charged with circulating the reports to an executive office press team in real time “so they could immediately go on attack.”
“Every week there would be more of these signs of control, hostility, anger, and it compounded to a point where my mental health was in really rough shape,” Moreno said. “I was crying every day, everyone around me was like, ‘Just leave the job and pick up the pieces,’ and that’s ultimately what I did.”
During an exit interview by phone with two women, Moreno said she was asked if her decision to leave the office was linked to an incident of sexual misconduct.
“Nothing had happened but I would absolutely not have felt safe sharing it internally if it had—because all of the senior staff are there for themselves and for Cuomo and there have never been any signs that anyone would be there for me.”
Moreno said that after she quit in February, it was “extremely jarring” to watch senior staff that she had worked with directly attacking James’ investigation and the allegations of Boylan and others.
But, she said, the allegations that mounted in the wake of her departure and the findings in James’ report released Tuesday, were “not at all surprising.”
Another former Cuomo aide, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of professional retaliation, echoed Moreno’s sentiment. “It was an open secret that working for the Governor meant you have to be prepared for a toxic work environment,” the former staffer told The Daily Beast. “There is nothing in that report that is surprising to me at all, sadly.”
As part of their civil probe, investigators from New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ office concluded that Cuomo “engaged in unlawful sexual harassment,” including unwanted groping, kissing, and hugging, and making inappropriate comments.
“After it all came out I would 100 percent believe every story, it was like of course, of course, of course,” Moreno said.
The bullying and abuse of power detailed by Cuomo’s accusers was consistent with her own experiences of the office culture.
“Making everyone feel so demoralized and dependent, that’s how an abuser wears you down. So none of it is surprising,” she said.
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment. The embattled governor has denied the AG’s findings, insisting during a press conference on Tuesday that he never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.
“I have always said my office is a demanding place to work and it is not for everyone. We work really, really hard,” Cuomo said.