New York, Aug 4 (AP) An investigation found that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed nearly a dozen women in and out of state government and worked to retaliate against one of his accusers, New York's attorney general has announced, hastening calls for the Democrat's resignation or impeachment.
President Joe Biden was among those who said Cuomo should resign, a high-profile condemnation from a onetime close ally.
“I think he should resign,” he told reporters Tuesday.
The governor remained defiant, saying in a taped response to the findings that “the facts are much different than what has been portrayed" and that he “never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”
The nearly five-month investigation, led by two outside lawyers, concluded that 11 women who said that Cuomo had touched them inappropriately, commented on their appearance or made suggestive comments about their sex lives were telling the truth.
Those accusers included an aide who said Cuomo groped her breast at the governor's mansion and a state trooper on his security detail, who said he ran his hand or fingers across her stomach and her back.
Anne Clark, who led the probe with former US Attorney Joon Kim, said the allegations were corroborated to varying degrees, including by other witnesses and contemporaneous text messages.
“These interviews and pieces of evidence revealed a deeply disturbing yet clear picture: Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Many of the women said they feared retaliation if they reported the governor's behaviour, investigators said. On at least one occasion, the probe found, Cuomo's staff took action “intended to discredit and disparage” an accuser — Lindsey Boylan, the first former employee to publicly accuse him of wrongdoing — including leaking confidential personnel files and drafting a letter attacking her credibility.
The investigation's findings, detailed in a 165-page public report, turn up the pressure on the 63-year-old governor, who just a year ago was widely hailed for his steady leadership during the darkest days of the COVID-19 crisis, even writing a book about it.
Since then, he's seen his standing crumble with a drumbeat of harassment allegations, questions in a separate, ongoing inquiry into whether state resources went into writing the book, and the discovery that his administration concealed the true number of nursing home deaths during the outbreak.
The revelations, most of which were initially made public last winter, led to a chorus of calls then for Cuomo's resignation from many top elected Democrats in New York. US Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said after the report's release Tuesday that it reinforces a call for his resignation they first made last March.
“No elected official is above the law. The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor's office. We continue to believe that the Governor should resign,” they said in a joint statement.
While James concluded the investigation without referring the case to prosecutors for possible criminal charges, local authorities could use its evidence and findings to mount their own cases. Albany District Attorney David Soares said he will be requesting material from James' office and welcomed victims to contact his office with information.
The investigation's findings are also expected to play an important role in an ongoing state Assembly inquiry into whether there are grounds to impeach Cuomo, who has been raising money for a potential fourth term in office. The Assembly hired its own legal team to investigate myriad allegations regarding harassment, his book, nursing homes and special access to COVID-19 testing.
Several Cuomo accusers demanded swifter action, calling on the governor to leave office immediately. Some Democratic and Republican state lawmakers joined them, along with one-time Cuomo allies including county executives and leaders of left-leaning political groups.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who would succeed Cuomo is he is removed or resigns, called the behavior detailed in the report “repulsive and unlawful behavior” and said, “No one is above the law.”
In his taped response, Cuomo apologised to two accusers: Charlotte Bennett, who said the governor asked if she was open to sex with an older man after she confided in him that she had been a victim of sexual assault, and a woman he kissed at a wedding — an incident reported in a front-page story in The New York Times. Cuomo said he was hiring an expert to reform sexual harassment training for state employees, including the governor.
But he denied other allegations as fabricated and lashed out at the investigative process, saying it was rife with “politics and bias.” He explained that he's been physically embracing people his whole life, that his mother and father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, had done the same and that the gesture was meant to “convey warmth.”
Cuomo's lawyer issued a written rebuttal to the investigation's findings, arguing in most cases that serious allegations, like the alleged groping, didn't happen, or that his actions were misconstrued. (AP)
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