At a press conference on Aug. 3, New York’s Democrat Attorney General Letitia James laid political waste to her fellow Democrat, Governor Andrew Cuomo. The key findings: Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, retaliated against those who complained, and his office failed to report the allegations. In the hours since James’ report, Cuomo has all but announced that his critics would have to drag him from the governor’s mansion with a mule team before he would leave of his own accord. When AG James’ press conference concluded, Cuomo released a video response, calling his accusers mistaken, liars, or both. He explained away his conduct as cultural misunderstandings and caring too much, claiming he was the victim.
Finally, the Truth
Cuomo announced that the waiting has been hard for him and his family, but he can now “finally share the truth.” According to the governor, the “facts are different than what is now being portrayed.” The lawyer he hired to defend him agrees as well. Cuomo stated plainly that the official report from the New York attorney general is false, and he denied he made any inappropriate sexual advances. James’ office said the opposite: Governor Cuomo sexually harassed women, including employees from his office as well as a state trooper.
In his defense, Cuomo declared that he had lived most of his adult life in public view and that this just “isn’t who I am.” One of the victims, Charlotte Bennett, worked for Cuomo when she was 25 and was the second former staffer to charge the governor with sexual harassment. He responded that he was simply trying to aid her recovery, helping her work through her past sexual assault. She claimed, “I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared.”
Cuomo Knows Sexual Trauma
The governor said he asked how she was doing, how she was feeling, and whether Bennett had “positive, supportive dating relationships.” Cuomo said he “knew too well the manifestations of sexual assault trauma.” According to Bennett, Cuomo discussed his penis size by reference, and his repeated comments to her of a sexually suggestive nature made her feel like he was trying to “groom” her. The attorney general’s report took exception to the senior staff of the Executive Chamber failing to report Cuomo’s sexual harassment of his young aide, stating:
“[T]he allegations involved sexually suggestive conversations, and any claim to not see that in the Governor’s comments we find to be not credible. In fact, Ms. Bennett plainly had felt so uncomfortable about it that she specifically reported it (despite all the attendant risks) and asked to be moved so that she would no longer have to interact with the Governor.”
Cuomo’s final response to Bennett was to inform her and her legal team that he heard her but that it wasn’t his fault. “They read into comments that I made and drew inferences that I never meant. They ascribe motives I never had, and simply put, they heard things I never said.”
Just a Misunderstanding
Another feature of the video production from the governor’s team included a highlight reel of him hugging and kissing all manner of people – young, old, male, female, famous, and not. Cuomo went on to explain that his behavior in this regard did not imply sexual motives or intent. Instead, he now understands “that there are generational or cultural perspectives, that, frankly, I hadn’t fully appreciated. And I have learned from this.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong, and I’m not going to do it again” seemed to be the final takeaway from the video, and Cuomo promised to institute some new policies and training guided by experts. But it wasn’t enough for fellow Democrats, who bear the political burden of his intransigence, whether they want to or not. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the majority leader, called for Cuomo’s resignation, and so did Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s other Democrat senator. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) joined in as well, appealing to Cuomo’s respect for the governor’s office and “his love of New York.” President Joe Biden said, “I think he should resign” but declined any calls for criminal investigation or other action at this time.
Cuomo’s term ends Jan. 1, 2023 – will the governor succumb to the pressure to resign before that date, or will he stick to his guns as he clearly intends to do? In the end, he may not be given the choice, as State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has indicated that lawmakers will be seeking a hasty impeachment.