Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees, a pattern that created a hostile work environment and violated several federal and state laws, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday.
“The independent investigation found Governor Andrew Cuomo harassed multiple women,” James said at a news conference. She said the investigation “has revealed conduct that corrodes the very fabric and character of our state government and shines light on injustice that can be present at the highest levels of government.”
Joon Kim, a former federal prosecutor who co-led the investigation, said that evidence found Cuomo had inappropriately touched multiple women without permission — “touching and grabbing of their most intimate body parts,” as well as making inappropriate sexualized comments. Eleven women made complaints against the governor, nine of whom were current or former state employees.
“Our investigation revealed these were not isolated incidents, they were part of a pattern,” said Kim.
Later on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said Cuomo should resign, as did the Democratic governors of Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania in a joint statement.
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also said that "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," adding that lawmakers would work to conclude an impeachment investigation "as quickly as possible" if Cuomo doesn't resign.
The AG's findings, which were part of a civil independent investigation, do not necessarily mean Cuomo will face criminal charges. When asked if any criminal charges will be laid against the governor, James said her department’s investigation was not focused on that. “Our work is concluded and the document is now public and the matter is civil in nature and does not have any criminal consequences," she said.
One woman who accused Cuomo of groping her breast had already filed a report with Albany police, said Anne Clark, an employment lawyer who co-led the investigation. “Any prosecutors and police departments can look at the evidence and determine if they want to take further action,” said Clark.
In a video statement released soon after the investigative report was made public, Cuomo was defiant, saying that the “facts are much different than what has been portrayed,” denying he has ever inappropriately touched anyone or made inappropriate sexual advances.
“I've lived all my entire adult life in public view,” he said. “That is just not who I am. That is not who I have ever been."
He went on to say that his behavior, such as touching someone’s face or kissing them on the forehead — actions he said he uses to convey “warmth” — are being “weaponized” against him, claiming that allegations made for “publicity or personal gain” discredit legitimate harassment victims. In an unusual attempt to bolster his argument, his words played alongside a slideshow of photographs of him kissing or touching people, especially men.
The investigation's report comes months after a wave of public allegations of sexual harassment threatened to derail Cuomo's third term as governor, with most of New York's top political leaders calling on him to resign. But Cuomo stayed in office with eyes on a fourth term, while insisting he would be vindicated by the independent review he had initially encouraged.
Cuomo has for years tried to position himself as a political leader in the #MeToo movement, signing laws intended to limit workplace sexual harassment. And he has insisted on a "zero tolerance" policy for such behavior.
Investigators spoke to 179 individuals — complainants, state troopers, employees, and others who interacted with the governor. They reviewed 74,000 pieces of evidence, including texts, pictures, documents, and audio recordings. The findings and the 168-page investigative report were made public Tuesday.
The investigation found that Cuomo encouraged a rampant “toxic” work environment in his executive chamber that allowed sexual harassment to fester.
“We conclude that the culture of fear and intimidation, the normalization of inappropriate comments and interactions, and the poor enforcement of the policies and safeguards, contributed to the sexual harassment, retaliation, and an overall hostile work environment in the Executive Chamber,” according to the report.
The details in the report are damning. The woman who filed a police complaint is identified in the AG's report as Executive Assistant #1. The report found the governor engaged in a “pattern of inappropriate conduct” with the woman since late 2019, including hugs, kisses (on the cheeks and once on the lips), touching and grabbing her butt during hugs, and comments about her personal life, including nicknaming her a “mingle mama” and asking if she’d cheat on her husband.
In November 2020, at the governor’s mansion, Cuomo allegedly reached under her blouse and groped her breast as he was hugging her. The woman had planned to not tell anyone about the incident but colleagues saw her becoming visibly emotional when the first allegations against the governor became public and Cuomo declared in a press conference in March 2021 that he’d never “touched anyone inappropriately.” The woman's allegation was made public soon after in a story in the Albany Times Union.
One of the most disturbing examples of harassment was from a state trooper, who’d allegedly been handpicked by the governor for his security detail after they met at an event, despite her not having the requisite experience. The report says that in one incident Cuomo ran “his hand across her stomach, from her belly button to her right hip” as she held the door open for him at an event. Another state trooper witnessed the incident.
On a different occasion, the report found the governor ran “his finger down her back, from the top of her neck down her spine to the middle of her back, saying ‘hey, you.’” The report also found one incident in which the governor kissed the state trooper on the cheek in front of another trooper, who corroborated her account.
The trooper also reported the governor made multiple sexually suggestive comments to her, including asking her to find him a girlfriend and that he required someone who “can handle pain.”
The attorney general's investigation into Cuomo's behavior began in March, after the governor's office asked for an independent investigation of public allegations of sexual harassment. Cuomo was reportedly interviewed for 11 hours by investigators with the attorney general’s office in July. Cuomo has for years tried to position himself as a political leader in the #MeToo movement, signing laws intended to limit workplace sexual harassment. And he has insisted on a "zero tolerance" policy for such behavior.
The investigation also found the governor attempted to retaliate against one woman who made complaints.
Another of the women who accused him of sexual harassment in March, former aide Charlotte Bennett, is named in the report released Tuesday. Cuomo made numerous inappropriate comments to Bennett in 2020, including asking if she’d been with older men and telling her he was “lonely” and “needed to be touched.” After Bennett reported the governor’s actions to his chief of staff, she was moved to another role and no formal investigation was made into her complaints, although the executive chamber instituted its own rule to ensure women were not allowed to be left alone with the governor. The report also noted that Chris Cuomo, the CNN host and the governor’s younger brother, had helped counsel his brother on how to respond when Bennett’s accusation was made public.
Surprisingly, during his recorded video statement on Tuesday, Cuomo made special mention of Bennett and called her allegations the one “that bothered me most.” He said Bennett had identified herself to him as a survivor of sexual assault, and that he had a family member of a similar age who was also a survivor of sexual assault and that Bennett’s “story resonated deeply with me.”
“People now ask me, why was I even talking to this young woman if I knew she was dealing with such issues,” said Cuomo. “Why did I even engage with her? That is the obvious and fair question, and one I have thought a lot about.”
He claimed he was attempting to help Bennett by asking probing questions about her dating life. “I did ask her questions I don’t normally ask people,” admitted Cuomo. “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 her.”
The governor then apologized directly to Bennett, although he denied any wrongdoing and continued to say she had misheard and misunderstood him. “Charlotte, I want you to know that I am truly, deeply sorry,” he said, looking into the camera.
Shortly after, Bennett tweeted in response: “I do not want an apology — I want accountability and an end to victim-blaming. NYS Assembly Speaker @CarlHeastie, it’s time you do the right thing: impeach him.”
Cuomo’s inappropriate sexual conversations took place even when the state was a COVID-19 epicenter, with the governor allegedly harassing a state-employed healthcare worker who gave him a COVID test live on air.
First Cuomo commented on her high heels, then when she told him she’d be “gentle but accurate” with her COVID test, he replied, “Gentle but accurate, [I’ve] heard that before.” She testified that she believed it was not a comment the governor would have made if she were a man. During the press conference, Cuomo then announced, “Nice to see you, Doctor — you make that gown look good.”
The harassment allegations against Cuomo first arose late last year, when former aide Lindsey Boylan tweeted that Cuomo had sexually harassed her “for years.” She expounded on that allegation in detail in February, and was soon followed by four other women who had worked for Cuomo. The harassment claims varied from creating a hostile work environment, with Cuomo asking women staffers about their sex lives, to claims of inappropriate touching.
Cuomo loudly refused to resign throughout the spring, repeatedly denying the allegations against him while at times apologizing if his behavior made anyone uncomfortable.
"I did not do what has been alleged, period," he said on a March call with reporters. "I won't speculate about people's possible motives, but I can tell you as a former attorney general who has gone through this situation many times, there are often many motivations for making an allegation, and that is why you need to know the facts before you make a decision."
And Cuomo has hung on since, resisting calls for him to resign from top Democrats and keeping a limited public schedule outside of small events surrounded by political allies. He has not explicitly said whether or not he would run for reelection next year, but there has not been any indication yet that he won’t — he raised more than $1 million at a fundraiser this summer as he began fundraising again after the harassment scandals.
The chorus of top Democrats demanding he resign continued after the report’s release on Tuesday.
In a joint statement, New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand called for him to step down. “As we have said before, the reported actions of the Governor were profoundly disturbing, inappropriate and completely unacceptable,” they said. “We continue to believe that the Governor should resign.”
“It is beyond clear that Andrew Cuomo is not fit to hold office and can no longer serve as Governor,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, one of Cuomo’s fiercest political rivals. “He must resign, and if he continues to resist and attack the investigators who did their jobs, he should be impeached immediately.”
Cuomo’s office has been reprimanded for publicly suggesting that James’ inquiry is politically motivated, with the suggestion that she herself is preparing for a campaign for governor.
James said Tuesday that the evidence against Cuomo revealed “a deeply disturbing but clear picture” of his behavior and applauded the women who had come forward.
“More importantly, I believe them,” she said, “and I thank them for their bravery.”