Governor Andrew Cuomo denied allegations Tuesday of sexual harassment and showed no signs of stepping down from office after the release of an explosive report by State Attorney General Letitia James detailing misconduct claims by 11 women.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” said Cuomo in a pre-taped 14-minute video statement on Aug. 3. “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.”
James’s five-month probe led by two outside attorneys corroborated accounts by the the women — including current and former staffers, other New York State employees, and members of the public — that they were sexually harassed by Cuomo and that he fostered a toxic work environment for women, which included retaliation against one victim for speaking out.
An attorney for Cuomo, Rita Galvin, released an 85-page rebuttal of the charges leveled against the state’s chief executive in James’s 168-page document, and the third-term governor urged New Yorkers to “read the facts and decide for yourself,” repeating previous doubts he raised about the state prosecutor’s investigation.
“Politics and bias are interwoven throughout every aspect of this situation,” he said. “One would be naive to think otherwise and New Yorkers are not naive.”
James shot back Wednesday calling earlier such claims “offensive,” and noted it was the governor who asked her to launch an investigation earlier this year in the first place.
In the recorded statement his office released Tuesday, Cuomo singled out three specific women, starting with his former aide Charlotte Bennett who said the governor made several inappropriate comments to her last year, including asking whether she had been with older men before and that he would date women as young as 22-years-old (she was 25 at the time).
That allegation “bothered me most,” Cuomo said, claiming he was trying to empathize by relating one of his family member’s experience of sexual assault in high school after Bennett told him about being a survivor of sexual assault.
“I was trying to help, obviously I didn’t,” Cuomo said. “Charlotte, I want you to know that I am truly and deeply sorry. I brought my personal experience into the workplace and I shouldn’t have done that.”
Bennett apparently didn’t see it the same way.
“We have the facts. @NYGovCuomo broke federal & state law when he sexually harassed me & other current & former staff,” she tweeted about an hour after Cuomo’s taped statement was released. “I do not want an apology — I want accountability and an end to victim-blaming.”
She then called upon Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to pursue articles of impeachment against the governor.
We have the facts. @NYGovCuomo broke federal & state law when he sexually harassed me & other current & former staff. 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.
— Charlotte Bennett (@_char_bennett_) August 3, 2021
Despite the apology, Cuomo went on to claim his statements in the report were being misrepresented.
“They read into comments that I made and draw inferences that I never meant. They ascribe motives I never had and simply put, they heard things that I just didn’t say,” said Cuomo.
The governor flatly denied an accusation by an anonymous staffer, labeled Executive Assistant #1 in James’ report, who said Cuomo grabbed her butt and reached under her blouse to grope her breast at the Executive Mansion in November.
“Let me be clear, that never happened,” Cuomo said.
The victim’s lawyer indicated to Cuomo that she will file for a lawsuit for damages, according to the governor.
There were a number of allegations against the governor for touching or kissing the victims inappropriately and without consent — including Anna Ruch whose experience was documented in a picture that made the front page of the New York Times — to which Cuomo responded by saying that his accusers were weaponizing his touchy-feely nature, followed by a slideshow of pictures of him touching and kissing politicians and other people at public events.
“I’ve been making the same gesture in public all my life. I actually learned it from my mother and from my father,” he said. “It is meant to convey warmth, nothing more.”
Governor Cuomo Responds to Independent Reviewer Report: https://t.co/sgPuPEDXRU
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) August 3, 2021
“I do it with everyone, Black and white, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, people who I meet on the street,” said Cuomo. “I do kiss people on the forehead, I do kiss people on the cheek, I do kiss people on the hand, I do embrace people, I do hug people, men and women.”
“I now understand that there are generational or cultural perspectives that frankly I hadn’t fully appreciated, and I have learned from this,” he added.
The long response document published by the governor’s attorney also includes 23 pages of pictures showing him and other prominent politicians hugging and kissing, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Al Gore, Joe Biden, and Nancy Pelosi.
Cuomo largely dismissed complaints about the toxic work environment in the Executive Chamber, saying it was not a typical job due to the high stakes involved in managing New York State.
“My office is no typical 9-to-5 government office, and I don’t want it to be. The stakes we deal with are very high, sometimes even life or death,” he said.