Overview: Governor Cuomo Sexual Harassment Scandal & Fallout

On Tuesday, August 3rd, after almost five months of investigating, Attorney General Letitia James and independent investigators, Joon H. Kim and Anne Clark, released their report, which found that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, violating state and federal laws. The 165-page report corroborated the accounts of 11 women, including Lindsey Boylan, Charlotte Bennett, and Brittany Commisso, the previously anonymous aid who alleged the Governor reached up her blouse and groped her breast in November 2020. Perhaps most surprising, the report also included the account of a previously unknown accuser, a State Trooper that the Governor allegedly requested be assigned to his security detail, despite not having the required three-years of experience for the position, who said the Governor frequently touched her inappropriately, subjected her to inappropriate comments, and even kissed her on one occasion.

The report also found that Governor Cuomo’s Executive Chamber is one that was “rife with fear and intimidation that not only enabled the above-described instances of harassment to occur,” but also “created a hostile work environment overall.” Specifically, the report found that some current and former senior administration officials, most notably Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, Communications Director Rich Azzopardi, DFS Commissioner Linda Lacewell, and former Counsel to the Governor Alphonso David, unlawfully retaliated against one of Cuomo’s accusers, Lindsey Boylan, when they acted to release personnel information to the media in an attempt to disparage her.

Almost immediately following the release of the attorney general’s report, politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand reiterated their calls for Cuomo to resign. Also, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden, who back in March said he would not comment until an investigation was done, came out calling for the Governor to resign. Also, District Attorneys in Albany, Nassau, Manhattan, Westchester, and Oswego counties announced that they were launching criminal investigations into the Governor based on the Attorney General’s report, and have requested evidence from the Attorney General’s office.

Also on the day the report was released, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, one of the few individuals to not call for the Governor’s resignation in March, released a statement after holding a conference with Assembly Democrats saying, “after our conference this afternoon to discuss the attorney general’s report concerning sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo, it is abundantly clear to me that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office. Once we receive all relevant documents and evidence from the Attorney General, we will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible.”

On Wednesday, the Assembly Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Governor Cuomo’s counsel saying that the committee “will soon consider potential articles of impeachment against your client,” and gave the Governor’s counsel until August 13th to provide any additional evidence. On Thursday afternoon, the Governor’s Communications Director, Rich Azzopardi, released a statement saying, “the Assembly has said it is doing a full and thorough review of the complaints and has offered the Governor and his team an opportunity to present facts and their perspective. The Governor appreciates the opportunity. We will be cooperating.”

On Friday, August 6th, the Governor’s attorneys held a Zoom press conference where they defended the Governor, sought to discredit Lindsey Boylan and Brittany Commisso, and painted the Attorney General’s investigation as a politically motivated witch hunt. The following Tuesday, August 10th, the Governor’s personal attorney Rita Glavin doubled down on these defenses during a 45-minute press conference.

Immediately following Glavin’s August 10th press conference, Andrew Cuomo addressed New Yorkers where he announced that he will be resigning from office. During his address, the Governor again defended himself saying that he did not mean to offend any of the women, and that some accusations against him, most notably the accusation that he groped Brittany Commisso, just did not happen. The Governor also continued to assert that the Attorney General’s report, and the process in the Legislature since the report was released, are unfair and politically motivated. “Part of being New York tough is being New York smart. New York smart tells us that this situation and moment are not about the fats. It’s not about the truth. It’s not about thoughtful analysis. It’s not about how do we make the system better. This is about politics, and our political system today is too often driven by the extremes. Rashness has replaced reasonableness. Loudness has replaced soundness. Twitter has become the public square for policy debate. There is an intelligent discussion to be had on gender-based actions on generational and cultural behavioral differences on setting higher standards and finding reasonable resolutions. But the political environment is too hot and it is too reactionary for that now, and it is unfortunate,” the Governor said.

However, in his speech, the Governor said that the best thing for him to do right now would be to step aside as Governor. “Government needs to perform. It is a matter of life and death – government operations, and wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing. And I cannot be the cause of that. New York tough means New York loving, and I love New York, and I love you. And everything I have ever done has been motivated by that love. And I would never want to be unhelpful in any way. And I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Governor Cuomo said. The Governor said that his resignation would become effective after 14 days.

At midnight today, August 24th, former Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul became the 57th Governor of New York, and the first woman to ever be Governor of the state. During her first press conference on August 11th, Hochul addressed New Yorkers saying, “I want people to know that I’m ready for this. It’s not something that we expected or asked for, but I am fully prepared to assume the responsibility as the 57th Governor of the state of New York. And shortly thereafter, I look forward to delivering an address to all New Yorkers, to lay out my vision for the great state of New York.” Also, during the address, and in an interview with the Today Show the next day, the Hochul said that she will not lead the same kind of administration as Governor Cuomo’s. “At the end of my term, whenever it ends, no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment,” she said.

As of this writing, Governor Hochul has not announced her pick for Lieutenant Governor. Nor has she announced her pick to replace Department of Financial Services Superintendent Linda Lacewell who previously announced she is resigning, effective today. Lacewell was one of the individuals named in the Attorney General’s report for helping to retaliate against Lindsey Boylan.

On Friday, August 13th, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine announced that they were suspending the impeachment investigation into former Governor Cuomo, citing the Governor’s resignation and some constitutional concerns as reasons. “There are two reasons for this decision. First, the purpose of the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation was to determine whether Governor Cuomo should remain in office. The governor’s resignation answers that directive. Second, we have been advised by Chair Lavine – with the assistance of counsel – of the belief that the constitution does not authorize the legislature to impeach and remove an elected official who is no longer in office.”

Responding to anger by the general public and elected officials regarding this decision, the Speaker and Judiciary Chair released a statement on August 16th, saying, “the Assembly Judiciary Committee will continue to review evidence and issue a final report on its investigation of Governor Cuomo. In doing so, the committee will take all appropriate steps to ensure that his effort does not interfere with various ongoing investigations by the United States Attorney concerning nursing home data; the attorney general concerning the governor’s memoir; and local law enforcement authorities in five jurisdictions – Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, Nassau and Oswego – regarding possible criminal incidents of sexual misconduct.”