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Biden Calls for Cuomo to Resign Over Sexual Harassment Findings

Aug. 3, 2021, 8:58 PM

President Joe Biden called on Andrew Cuomo to resign after the release of a state report finding that the New York governor sexually harassed multiple women, created a “climate of fear” in his office and violated federal and state laws.

Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the nation’s two most senior Democrats, on Tuesday both joined a chorus of politicians from both sides of the aisle demanding Cuomo step down. Cuomo, also a Democrat, responded defiantly earlier in the day, insisting he’d done nothing wrong and calling the probe by New York Attorney General Letitia James biased.

WATCH: President Biden says Cuomo should resign.
Source: Bloomberg)

The president said he thought Cuomo should resign in response to a reporter’s question at a White House briefing Tuesday afternoon. Pelosi said in a statement, “Recognizing his love of New York and the respect for the office he holds, I call upon the Governor to resign.”

James, also a Democrat, said Cuomo engaged in “unwanted groping” and kissing of current and former state employees as well as women outside of state government. He and his staff also retaliated against at least one former employee for coming forward, the attorney general said at a press conference Tuesday morning announcing her office’s report on Cuomo’s misconduct.

WATCH: New York Attorney General Letitia James announces the report on Gov. Cuomo’s misconduct.
(Source: Bloomberg)

Biden, who weathered his own controversy related to inappropriate behavior, and Pelosi both stopped short earlier this year of seeking Cuomo’s resignation when harassment allegations first surfaced, but James’s report intensified the firestorm engulfing a politician who just last year was touted as a hero and a possible Democratic presidential contender.

Other political figures who previously reserved judgment on Cuomo, like New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the No. 3 House Democrat, also said Tuesday he should resign. New York Representative Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican, said Cuomo should be arrested. New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand renewed their previous demand from March that Cuomo resign.

Cuomo denied the findings of James’s report in his own press conference held Tuesday afternoon. “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” he said. “That is just not who I am or who I have ever been.” The governor also issued his own 85-page report challenging the allegations.

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, called the findings “disturbing” and “gut-wrenching.” He said the legislature’s judiciary committee, which is conducting an impeachment probe, would “have more to say in the very near future.” James said in a statement Tuesday that she was cooperating with the assembly’s investigation.

Under New York law, the state attorney general has limited ability to bring criminal charges, requiring a referral from the governor in most cases. James said local district attorneys could follow up on her findings and pursue charges against the governor, and Cuomo’s victims also have the option of filing civil suits. “We’ve done our work and at this point we’re going to let the chips fall where they may,” she said.

LISTEN: Bloomberg’s Marty Schenker discusses Governor Andrew Cuomo with Tim Stenovec and Paul Sweeney on Bloomberg Radio

‘Hey You’

P. David Soares, district attorney for the state capital of Albany, where much of Cuomo’s conduct took place, said in a statement that he was formally requesting investigative material from James and welcomed any victims to contact his office.

James’s investigation spanned five months and examined 74,000 pieces of evidence, including e-mails, text messages and photographs that painted a “deeply disturbing yet clear picture,” said Anne Clark, one of two outside lawyers hired by the state to investigate harassment claims against Cuomo. His conduct was not just “old fashioned, affectionate behavior” but “unlawful,” she said.

In total, 11 women came forward with allegations against Cuomo. Among them was a state trooper who was part of his security detail. At one point, he ran his finger down the trooper’s spine in an elevator, saying “hey you,” said Clark.

The attorney general, also a Democrat, has been investigating Cuomo since March after former economic development official Lindsey Boylan first levied accusations against him in December. Boylan said Cuomo kissed her on the lips in 2018 during a meeting in his office and asked her to play strip poker with him.

The report noted that Cuomo once asked executive assistant Charlotte Bennett what other people were saying about the size of his hands. Bennett “understood the governor was attempting to get her to say something about the size of his genitals.”

‘Breaks My Heart’

Cuomo also reached under Bennett’s blouse to grab her breast and on multiple occasions grabbed her buttocks, Clark said, adding that the assistant was afraid to speak out for fear that she would be fired. She told investigators she ultimately left her position due to Cuomo’s harassment.

“I was scared to imagine what would happen if I rejected him so I disappeared instead,” Bennett said in a statement read by Joon Kim, the other lawyer who investigated the claims against Cuomo. “My time in public service ended because he was bored and lonely. It still breaks my heart.”

Cuomo in his press conference specifically responded to Bennett’s allegations, saying they bothered him the most. He denied her allegations but said he had engaged with her, thinking he could help her overcome trauma from a past sexual assault.

“Charlotte, I want you to know that I am truly and deeply sorry,” Cuomo said at his press conference. “I brought my personal experience into the workplace and I shouldn’t have done that. I was trying to help, and obviously I didn’t.”

The report concluded that Cuomo and a group of advisers wrote a draft letter or op-ed to attack Lindsey Boylan, who worked as a special adviser to the governor. They used complaints against her from a confidential file and referenced alleged interactions between her and male colleagues. The draft also included conspiracy theories about Boylan and “connections with supporters of President Trump and a politician with an alleged interest in running for governor,” according to the report.

The governor denied the most serious allegations to investigators, “offering ‘blanket denials’ or that he had a ‘lack of recollection as to specific incidents,’” according to a statement from the attorney general’s office.

Allegations were treated merely as threats against the governor rather than incidents that needed to be reported, Clark said. Federal and state law forbid employers from discouraging employees or former employees from bringing a claim of discrimination.

Widely praised for his leadership in the early days of the pandemic, particularly in contrast to the then-President Donald Trump, Cuomo was positioned as a future presidential candidate and given a prime speaking slot at the 2020 Democratic Convention. But the allegations, along with a previous report by James’s office slamming his office’s reporting of nursing home Covid deaths, have steadily eroded his reputation over the past several months.

The governor has suggested James’s investigation of the harassment claims was driven by her own ambitions to eventually occupy his seat. He raised concerns over her selection of Kim, a former federal prosecutor, had previously pursued an investigation involving Cuomo.

At the end of his press conference, Cuomo tried to pivot to the pandemic and suggested the accusations had undermined efforts to fight covid. “What matters to me at the end of the day is getting the most done that I can for you,” he said, “and that is what I do every day and I will not be distracted from that job. We have a lot to do.”

--With assistance from Bob Van Voris and Justin Sink.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Emma Kinery in Washington at ekinery@bloomberg.net;
Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Shelly Banjo at sbanjo@bloomberg.net;
Tina Davis at tinadavis@bloomberg.net

Anthony Lin

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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