Five Takeaways From The Bombshell Investigation Of Cuomo’s Sexual Misconduct

Governor Andrew Cuomo is clinging to power following the release of a bombshell report on his alleged pattern of sexual harassment and abuse. The 165-page document — and accompanying appendices — offers a meticulous and unsparing account of the state’s chief executive using his power to sexually harass and degrade 11 women. It describes an Executive Chamber “rife with fear and retaliation,” where the governor’s misdeeds were normalized and protected by top staffers.

The five-month investigation was overseen by Attorney General Letitia James, but led by Anne Clark, a labor lawyer, and former federal prosecutor Joon Kim, to avoid any conflict of interest. The two attorneys interviewed 179 people, 41 of whom were under oath, and issued over 70 subpoenas. They confirmed many of the most damning allegations against Cuomo, while unearthing new acts of alleged misconduct. Below, a look at some of the report’s biggest findings.

State Trooper Felt “Completely Violated”

One of several newly public allegations of harassment comes from a New York State Trooper, identified in the report as “Trooper #1.” After meeting Cuomo briefly at an event in late 2017, she was recruited to join the governor’s protective service detail. While Cuomo officials denied it at the time, emails show that the state changed their policy requiring three years of service in order to satisfy the governor’s desire to hire her.

After joining the unit, the trooper alleged that Cuomo peppered her with inappropriate comments, asking why she wasn’t required to wear a dress and telling her that he was seeking a partner who “can handle pain.” He also tried to kiss her on the cheek on at least two occasions, she said, and ran his fingers along her spine while the two of them were in an elevator.

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Later, at an event on Long Island in 2019, Cuomo “ran the palm of his left hand across her stomach” in a way that made her feel “completely violated,” the report states.

Investigators said that the victim’s account was consistent and supported by evidence, while Cuomo’s denial “lacked credibility.”

Allegations From Charlotte Bennett Corroborated

In February of this year, Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former staffer to Cuomo, accused the governor of “grooming” her through inappropriate conversations. She said that he repeatedly asked about her sex life, whether she would sleep with older men, and if she was monogamous. He also volunteered that he would feel comfortable sleeping with women in their 20s, and seemed “fixated” on her status as a sexual assault survivor, she said.

Text messages published as part of the report appear to back up her assertions. In a series of messages sent on June 5th of last year, Bennett wrote to a friend that Cuomo had asked “if I was fucking other [people]” and said that “age doesn’t matter.” The interaction left her “shaking,” she wrote, “so upset and so confused.”

Text messages from a Cuomo accuser shared by the Attorney General's Office

Text messages from a Cuomo accuser shared by the Attorney General’s Office

She later reported the conversations to the governor’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, and was transferred to another position. But while DesRosiers testified that she found Bennett’s claim credible, the incident was not formally reported or investigated — a violation of state guidelines, according to investigators.

In his statement on Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo said that he was trying to help Bennett because his own family member was a survivor of sexual assault. “I now understand that there are generational or cultural perspectives that frankly I hadn’t fully appreciated,” he added.

As with the state trooper, investigators said that Cuomo’s defense was not credible.

Chris Cuomo Crafts Strategy

Hours after Bennett came forward, key Cuomo allies were haggling over whether to hit back hard or express remorse. Emails included in the report show that Chris Cuomo, an anchor on CNN, participated in those strategy calls, helping to draft a statement that closely aligned with the final copy released by the administration. One email reads: “Chris wants to make sure we have enough contrition here.”

The governor appeared often on his brother’s primetime program during the early days of the pandemic — conversations that were widely seen as a breach of journalistic ethics. In May, after the Washington Post reported that Chris Cuomo was privately advising his brother, CNN apologized, but declined to discipline the anchor.

Chris Cuomo is not the only one who appeared to be moonlighting for the governor. Emails show that Lis Smith, the former senior advisor to Pete Buttigieg; Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign; and Dani Lever, a communications manager at Facebook, all played a role in Cuomo’s crisis response team, despite no longer working in state government.

“Everyone sort of jokes that the governor’s office is like Hotel California,” one former senior staffer told investigators. “You never really leave.”

Doctor Who Swabbed Cuomo Felt Uncomfortable

Among those who spoke to the investigators was a former Director of New York State Department of Health, who administered a nasal COVID swab to Cuomo on live television last March. The physician said that she was made uncomfortable by a sexually suggestive joke Cuomo made off-camera, as well as his comments to her in front of the press: “Nice to see you, Doctor—you make that gown look good.”

Another unnamed state employee told investigators that Cuomo grabbed her butt while having his picture taken with her in September of 2019. The employee informed several friends about the incident, who corroborated it with the investigators.

In another previously unreported incident, Virginia Limmiatis, an employee of National Grid in Syracuse, told investigators that Cuomo approached her at an energy conservation event in 2017 and proceeded to run his fingers against her chest while commenting on her t-shirt. He then allegedly brushed between the area of her shoulder and breast, while whispering in her ear: “I’m going to say I see a spider on your shoulder.”

Limmiatis told investigators she was moved to come forward after hearing Cuomo state on television that he had never touched anyone inappropriately. “He is lying again,” she said. “He touched me inappropriately.”

Culture Of Retaliation

As the allegations of sexual harassment mounted earlier this year, they were accompanied by reports of retaliation and intimidation in the top levels of the Governor’s Office. Investigators found that those accounts were true and, in at least one case, illegal.

The report singled out the Executive Chamber’s efforts to smear former state economic development deputy secretary Lindsay Boylan, who first accused Cuomo of sexual harassment in late 2020, as unlawful retaliation. The report found that senior staffers shared confidential personnel documents with reporters in an attempt to discredit and disparage Boylan’s account in violation of her rights.

In one instance, several current and former members of the administration signed onto a statement disputing Boylan’s allegation that Cuomo had asked her to play strip poker on a plane ride. But under oath, Howard Zemsky, the former head of Empire State Development, reversed his position, acknowledging that he had overhead the comments.

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Boylan wasn’t the only one who faced retaliation for speaking up. One former Cuomo employee said she received “incessant calls and texts” from Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top aide, asking her to call another staffer who officials feared would lodge an allegation against Cuomo.

Another unnamed executive assistant, who alleged that she was groped by Cuomo, also told investigators that she was silent out of concern that would be retaliated against by supervisor if she spoke up about the assault.

For some staffers, the governor’s aggressive behavior wasn’t seen as unwanted. Annabel Walsh, a former staffer, recalled having kissed Cuomo on the lips and said she did not find the contact uncomfortable.

But others said the message was clear. “In his office the rules were different,” Ana Liss, the third aide to accuse Cuomo of inappropriate behavior, told investigators. “Though it was strange and uncomfortable and technically not permissible in a typical workplace environment, I was in this mindset that it was the twilight zone.”