Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment scandal: What we know

The New York governor was embroiled in a political firestorm after an investigation concluded he harassed 11 women.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo faces calls to step down and possible impeachment after an investigation concluded he sexually harassed 11 women [File: Mary Altaffer/AP Photo]

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped down Tuesday after feeling the the heat from voters and elected officials from both major parties in the United States following a report released by state Attorney General Letitia James last week that accused him of sexually harassing 11 women.

Cuomo, a Democrat, faced calls to resign by President Joe Biden and top Democrats from around the US – calls Cuomo gave into on Tuesday. His resignation is effective in 14 days.

Prior to Cuomo’s resignation, the state legislature was considering impeachment proceedings on this and a variety of other scandals during his three terms as governor.

Here is what we know:

What are the accusations against Cuomo?

In December, Lindsey Boylan, a former aide, publicly accused Cuomo of sexual harassment “for years”.

“I hate that some men, like [Cuomo] abuse their power,” she added.

Boylan later detailed her accusations in a blog post, saying Cuomo gave her an unsolicited kiss on the lips in his office, as well as repeatedly made “degrading” sexual remarks.

In February, another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, accused him of sexual harassment.

While she did not allege any physical contact, she described “inappropriate” conversations he initiated that involved questions about her personal life. She said those conversations were the governor “grooming” her for a sexual relationship.

James, the state attorney general, appointed independent lawyers on March 8 to investigate these allegations, and the report on those lawyers’ findings was released last Tuesday.

What did the investigation uncover?

In a news conference last week, James said the probe “found that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former New York State employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women”.

“The independent investigation found that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging and by making inappropriate comments,” she added.

A probe overseen by New York State Attorney General Letitia James determined Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women [Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

In total, 11 women accused the governor of harassment and described to investigators a “hostile and toxic work environment”.

Could charges be laid against Cuomo?

James said she would not bring state charges against Cuomo, but the investigation could lead to civil and criminal charges against him.

Brittany Commisso, who was identified as “Executive Assistant #1” in the attorney general’s report, filed a criminal complaint with the Albany County sheriff’s office last week.

She told investigators that Cuomo fondled her breast and also rubbed her backside while she took a selfie with him.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple told reporters Saturday that his investigators “have a lot of fact-finding to do” but said Commisso’s allegations could ultimately lead to misdemeanor criminal charges.

Meanwhile, Boylan’s lawyer told ABC News last week that her client plans to file a civil lawsuit against Cuomo.

What is Cuomo saying?

Cuomo has continued to steadfastly deny that he sexually harassed anybody and, until Tuesday, insisted he would not step down as governor.

“I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” Cuomo said after the attorney general’s report was released. “That is just not who I am.”

Cuomo has denied the allegations against him [Office of Governor Andrew M Cuomo/Handout via Reuters]

His lawyer Rita Glavin told reporters on Friday that she believed the independent investigation’s conclusions were, in essence, “predetermined”.

“I know the difference between putting together a case against a target versus doing independent fact-finding with an open mind,” Glavin said. “There has been no open-minded fact-finding here in this investigation. This investigation was conducted in a manner to support a predetermined narrative.”

What is the political fallout?

While some had called for Cuomo’s resignation after the first accusations earlier this year, others, such as President Biden, waited for investigators to release their report before passing a firm judgement.

Once the report was made public last week, the floodgates opened. From Biden on down to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a fellow New Yorker, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats across the country called on Cuomo to quit.

And it seems the public was on their side. A Quinnipiac Poll released on Friday showed 70 percent of New York state voters said Cuomo should resign, including 57 percent of Democratic voters.

Several of Cuomo’s staffers resigned in the aftermath of the attorney general’s report, including one of his top aides, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, who was found in last week’s report to have covered up for Cuomo and retaliated against his accusers.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, left, accompanied by Melissa DeRosa, after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, January 18, 2017 [File: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

The state assembly considered impeachment proceedings on the harassment allegations, as well as Cuomo’s handling of the state’s nursing home patients during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, a controversial $5m book deal, and other scandals he has faced during his governorship.

What happens next?

When Cuomo ultimately steps down in two weeks, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who is also a Democrat, will take over.

Hochul will finish out the remainder of Cuomo’s term, which ends in December 2022.

It is not immediately clear whether the New York state assembly’s judiciary committee will move forward with their investigation. The committee had given Cuomo until Friday to respond to the allegations laid out in the attorney general’s report in addition to other questions they have about his other controversies.

If Cuomo had stayed in office, the committee could have voted to begin impeachment proceedings soon after receiving Cuomo’s responses, a process that was expected to culminate in an impeachment vote by the whole assembly next month or in October, followed by a trial in the state senate to remove him from office.

Source: Al Jazeera