For state attorney general Letitia James, the evidence is clear: Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed nearly a dozen women while in office, and created a hostile work environment where he used his power to not only silence any complaints about his conduct, but to continue that conduct.
James says she isn’t pursuing any other action — including criminal charges — because the specific work of her office is done. But that’s not enough for state Sen. Gustavo Rivera who, within minutes of the report’s release, called once again for Cuomo to resign.
“The independent investigation overseen by New York attorney general Letitia James unequivocally delineates the extent of Gov. Cuomo’s despicable behavior and chronic sexual harassment of numerous women,” Rivera said, in a statement. “It is clear that the governor and his administration fostered a toxic environment that leveraged power to intimidate those who were berated and harassed.
“We greatly value the bravery of those that came forward as well as those that suffered in silence. There is no doubt that the governor is not fit to represent the state of New York, and he must resign immediately.”
If Cuomo refuses to resign, Rivera added, it’s up to the Assembly to send articles of impeachment to his chamber.
While Cuomo did admit to investigators some interactions with women who accused him of sexual misconduct, he has denied the allegations. He issued a video response Tuesday saying the “facts are much different than what has been portrayed.” He said his attorney has responded to each individual accusation in writing, and that document is being provided publicly on Cuomo’s website.
“First, 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 have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am. This is not who I have been.”
Cuomo described his kissing people on the face and hands as something he does with many people, no matter their age or gender. He showed a number of photos during his video remarks where he did just that — including one photo where Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., is seen kissing Cuomo on the face, with Letitia James herself joining in the picture.
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi — a longtime critic of Cuomo — dismissed those photos, saying they prove nothing.
“A slideshow of (the governor) kissing people does not negate that he sexually harassed his employees,” the senator said on social media.
Biaggi has been rumored to be considering a run for Cuomo’s seat even though the governor has indicated he would seek re-election. Some reports suggest Biaggi might actually be looking to join someone else’s ticket as a lieutenant governor candidate in next year’s primary.
“The attorney general’s independent investigation concluded that Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former staff, violating federal and state law,” Biaggi said, in a statement. “I am calling on him to resign. If Cuomo refuses, I am calling on (Assembly Speaker) Carl Heastie and the Assembly to move to impeach immediately.”
Heastie appears to be leaving the door wide open for impeachment, based on a statement of his own.
“The findings contained in the report are disturbing,” he said, according to published reports. “The details provided by the victims are gut-wrenching. Our hearts go out to all the individuals who have had to endure this horrible experience. The conduct by the governor outlined in this report would indicate someone who is not fit for office.”
Heastie forwarded the attorney general’s report to the Assembly’s judiciary committee, he said, which will now “undertake an in-depth examination of the report and its corresponding exhibits with our Assembly counsels, as well as the legal firm we have retained to assist us.”
Only one New York governor has ever been impeached — William Sulzer, who was removed from office in 1913 just 10 months after first assuming it. He was accused of misusing campaign funds to make stock purchases, and for perjuring himself in a lawsuit some 20 years before becoming governor. Sulzer claimed he was a victim of Tammany Hall machinations.
Although not on his chamber’s judiciary committee, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz described James’ report as “nauseating” and “antithetical to the ideals that we must uphold in New York state.”
“I feel terrible for the women who experienced such outrageous behavior while working on behalf of the people of New York,” Dinowitz said, in a statement. “I’ve said from the beginning there must be due process, and we cannot operate in a system of ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ Now that the attorney general’s investigation is complete, it is clear to me that Gov. Cuomo has had due process. It is time for the governor to resign, for the good of our state.”
James said 11 women came forward making claims against Cuomo, from inappropriate discussions of a sexual nature, to physically groping private areas of their bodies. Among those saying they were targeted by the governor included a clerical aide, and a member of his state police protection detail.
Biaggi took an extra moment on social media to “commend the brave women who came forward in the face of retaliation.”
“I believe you. And I stand with you always,” Biaggi said. “No longer can powerful men abuse their positions without facing consequences. It is time for Gov. Cuomo to face accountability for his actions.”