A five-month investigation into allegations of sexual harassment levelled against New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo has found that the 63-year old had a long history of misconduct against women both inside and outside of state government.
The investigation was conducted by two independent lawyers who spoke to a total of 179 people. They concluded that the Cuomo administration was a “hostile work environment” and “rife with fear and intimidation”.
“Words that witnesses have used repeated to describe [the administration] include toxic, hostile, abusive, fear, intimidation, bullying, vindictive.”
The 179 individuals interviewed for the investigation included accusers, current and former members of the executive chamber, state troopers, state staff and other members who interacted regularly with Cuomo.
At a press conference on Tuesday, New York Attorney-General Letitia James said her team’s investigation had revealed that “Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws.”
“These interviews and pieces of evidence revealed a deeply disturbing yet clear picture.”
Joon H. Kim, one of the lawyers hired by James to lead the investigation said at the press conference, “These brave women stepped forward to speak truth to power and, in doing so, they expressed faith in the belief that although the Governor may be powerful, the truth is even more so.”
“It was a culture where you could not say no to the Governor,” Kim revealed. ”And if you upset him or his senior staff you’d be written off, cast aside or worse.”
“The witnesses described a culture that overlooked everyday flirtations, physical intimacy and inappropriate comments by the Governor.”
Kim is an American attorney who served as the acting U.S Attorney for New York and has investigated Cuomo in the past.
That investigation concluded “insufficient evidence to prove a federal crime.”
Kim has spent his career specialising in internal investigations and regulatory enforcement.
The other lawyer hired by James was Anne L. Clark, an expert in employment law issues, who has represented plaintiffs in workplace discrimination and sexual harassment cases in both government and the private sector.
At the press conference on Tuesday, James made no indications that criminal charges would be laid, however, local authorities may use the report’s evidence and conclusions to build their own cases.
In a pre-recorded statement released after the investigation conclusions were made public, Cuomo denied all the accusations against him and the investigation’s findings.
“I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” Cuomo 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.”
The investigation revealed findings contrary to his statements. It found that Cuomo had harassed women outside of government, and that he sexually harassed a female state trooper on his security detail. According to the report, Cuomo ran his hand or fingers across the female state trooper’s stomach and her back, kissed her on the cheek, asked her to help him find a girlfriend and asked why she didn’t wear a dress.
One female aide from his administration told the investigation that he groped her breast.
The investigators found all 11 female accusers credible, acknowledging that their allegations were corroborated by other witnesses and text messages.
In March, Cuomo responded to multiple allegations that he inappropriately touched and sexually harassed women who worked with him or who he met at public events by saying he believed making someone feel uncomfortable is not a form of harassment.
“Harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said after being questioned about claims made by former aide Charlotte Bennett.
In February, Bennett told The New York Times that Cuomo had once asked her whether she had ever had sex with older men.
In March, Rebecca Traister reported in an extensive feature for New York Magazine that Cuomo told his aides to track down attractive young women he found at parties and offer them jobs.
The latest investigation also found that Cuomo and his senior staff had tried to strike back at a former female employee who had accused him of misconduct.
Lindsey Boylan, a former aide to Cuomo who is now running for the Manhattan borough president herself, said Cuomo kissed her on the lips after a meeting in his office and “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.”
After Boylan first made her allegations public last December, the Cuomo administration undermined her story by releasing personnel memos to the media revealing that she had resigned after being confronted about complaints she yelled at her staff.
Boylan replied that the records “were leaked to the media in an effort to smear me”.
Joon Kim said on Tuesday that some of the women “… suffered through unwanted touching, and grabbing of their most intimate body parts. Others suffered through repeated offensive, sexually suggestive, or gender-based comments.”
“A number of them endured both. None of them welcomed it. And all of them found it disturbing, humiliating, uncomfortable and inappropriate.”
For many months, a long list of top elected Democrats have called for Cuomo’s resignation, including Senator Kristen Gillibrand, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Grace Meng and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
On Tuesday, U.S President Joe Biden told reporters he believes Cuomo should resign. When he was asked if he thought Cuomo should be removed from office if he refuses to resign, Biden responded, “I understand the state legislature may decide to impeach, I do not know that for a fact.”