New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo violated federal and state laws when he repeatedly sexually harassed several current and former New York state employees, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Tuesday.
James made the bombshell announcement as she released the findings of a months-long inquiry—led by former federal prosecutor Joon Kim and employment lawyer Anne Clark—into sexual misconduct allegations made against Cuomo by 11 women.
Independent investigators appointed by James concluded that Cuomo engaged in unwanted groping, kissing, and hugging, and making inappropriate comments. Furthermore, “the governor and his senior staff took actions to retaliate against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story, her truth,” James said.
While the civil investigation concluded that Cuomo “engaged in unlawful sexual harassment,” James said her office didn’t reach a conclusion “as to whether the conduct amounts to or should be the subject of criminal prosecution.” Police in Albany are separately investigating an executive assistant’s allegation that Cuomo groped her breast.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” he said. “I am 63 years old, I’ve lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am and that’s not who I have ever been.”
He said the alleged grope of the assistant “never happened” and would be decided by the legal system. Other allegations of kissing, touching, and making inappropriate comments sought to “unfairly characterize and weaponize everyday interactions that I’ve had with any number of New Yorkers,” he said as a photo montage played of him kissing and hugging people over his career. (His attorney’s response also included photos of other politicians hugging people.)
“I’ve been making the same public gesture all my life. I actually learned it from my mother and my father,” he said in response to a photo of him grabbing one accuser, Anna Ruch, by the cheeks to kiss her at a 2019 wedding.
During an inquiry that spanned five months and involved 179 witness interviews as well as a review of thousands of documents, investigators said they found sexual harassment was “part of a pattern” and that Cuomo “routinely” interacted with women in a way the women found humiliating.
Interviews revealed a toxic culture that “normalized and overlooked” inappropriate comments and unwanted flirtation. Kim said that verbal abuse left accusers intimidated and fearful and created a work environment that was “ripe for harassment.”
Among the damning allegations is a new accusation that Cuomo sexually assaulted a New York State Police trooper who was on his protective detail.
The investigation states that, after Cuomo met the trooper in late 2017 at an event at the Robert F. Kennedy bridge, he asked to move her to his Protective Services Unit detail—even though she didn’t have the required experience. During her time on the PSU, the trooper alleges Cuomo was “flirtatious and creepy,” including repeatedly touching her body without consent, kissing her on the cheek in front of a colleague, and making several demeaning and sexually suggestive comments.
“On one occasion in an elevator, the Governor ran his finger down the center of Trooper #1’s back from the top of her neck down the center of her spine, while saying, ‘hey you,’” the 168-page report states. “On another occasion, the Governor asked Trooper #1 why she would want to get married, noting that ‘it always ends in divorce, and you lose money, and your sex drive goes down.’”
The trooper told investigators that Cuomo asked her age once, telling her she was “too old for me” when she responded that she was in her late 20s. She tried to deflect the conversation by joking about becoming a matchmaker and asked him for his requirements. “According to Trooper #1, the Governor responded that for a girlfriend, he was looking for someone who ‘can handle pain,’” the report states.
The trooper said that while Cuomo’s actions made her uncomfortable, she didn’t feel she could report it out of fear of retaliation and career ruin, and “based on her experience and discussions with others in the PSU.” Cuomo denied all the allegations made by the trooper, stating that he wanted to hire her because he was “on constant alert to recruit more women, Blacks, and Asians to the state police detail.”
The report also detailed allegations from the unnamed executive assistant whose claims are being investigated by the Albany Police Department. She alleged Cuomo groped her breast last November, kissed her on the lips at least once, and touched her inappropriately several times.
She told investigators she didn’t initially report it because she felt her career would be in jeopardy. After seeing Cuomo’s March 3 press conference stating he had never “touched anyone inappropriately,” she changed her mind and told a few colleagues. It was later reported by the Times Union.
James’ investigation began in March after several women who worked in Cuomo’s administration came forward with stories of inappropriate advances, touching, sexualized comments, and kissing on the lips.
Many Democrats, including a majority of the New York congressional delegation, called on him to step aside but Cuomo remained defiant.
One accuser, Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant to Cuomo who was also a health policy adviser in his administration, reissued that call in a one-word statement on Twitter on Tuesday.
Her attorney Debra Katz reiterated the call for Cuomo to resign, saying his actions “have deprived New Yorkers of the professionalism, passion, and dedication to their state that Charlotte and the many others who refused to submit to his advances have to offer.”
In a February essay, Lindsey Boylan wrote that she resigned as Cuomo’s economic development aide in 2018 after he tried to kiss her in a meeting. She detailed several uncomfortable interactions, including when he proposed “strip poker” on a work trip and confessed he had a “crush” on her.
A few days later, Bennett revealed similar experiences, including a conversation in Cuomo’s office at the height of the pandemic when he said he was looking for a girlfriend and asked if she ever had sex with older men.
Cuomo said Tuesday that the interaction came about after Bennett had confided that she was a sexual assault survivor, which “resonated deeply” with Cuomo because he had a similarly aged family member who was sexually assaulted in high school. He said he asked her questions about relationships that he “wouldn’t normally ask” as a way of helping her process trauma.
“Charlotte, I want you to know that I’m truly and deeply sorry,” he said in his recorded statement. “I brought my personal experience into the workplace and I shouldn’t have done that. I was trying to help. Obviously I didn’t.”
In early March, Ruch, a former Biden campaign aide, told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hand on her bare lower back after meeting her at a 2019 wedding. A photo showed him grabbing Ruch’s face with his hands and asking if he could kiss her.
The sexual harassment allegations earlier this year came on the heels of separate allegations that the Cuomo administration had concealed the true tally of COVID deaths in the state's nursing homes. It threw the three-term governor’s rule into chaos, just after he had celebrated a victory lap and published a book celebrating wins over the coronavirus pandemic.