What’s next for Gov. Cuomo? Timeline leading up to investigation that found he sexually harassed multiple employees

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NEW YORK — An investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo found that he sexually harassed multiple current and former state government employees, state Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday.

AG James said her role in the case has concluded. Although there were no referral to criminal prosecutors, local authorities could use the evidence from the report to form their own cases.

The nearly five-month investigation, conducted by two outside lawyers who spoke to 179 people, found that the Cuomo administration was a “hostile work environment” and that it was “rife with fear and intimidation.”

People interviewed included complainants, current and former members of the executive chamber, State troopers, additional state employees and others who interacted regularly with the governor.

“These interviews and pieces of evidence revealed a deeply disturbing yet clear picture: Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws,” James said at a press conference on Tuesday.

On at least one occasion, the investigation found, Cuomo and his senior staff worked to retaliate against a former employee who accused him of wrongdoing. Cuomo was also found to have harassed women outside of government, the investigation found.

“These brave women stepped forward to speak truth to power and, in doing so, they expressed faith in the belief that although the governor may be powerful, the truth is even more so,” Joon Kim, one of the lawyers leading the investigation, said at the press conference.

Cuomo faced multiple allegations last winter that he inappropriately touched and sexually harassed women who worked with him or who he met at public events. One aide in his office said he groped her breast.

Another, Lindsey Boylan, said Cuomo kissed her on the lips after a meeting in his office and “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.”

After Boylan first made her allegations public in December, the Cuomo administration undercut her story by releasing personnel memos to media outlets revealing that Boylan resigned after she was confronted about complaints she belittled and yelled at her staff.

Boylan has said those records “were leaked to the media in an effort to smear me.”

Other aides have said that the Democratic governor asked them unwelcome personal questions about sex and dating. One former aide, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo asked if she was open to sex with an older man.

“Some suffered through unwanted touching, and grabbing of their most intimate body parts. Others suffered through repeated offensive, sexually suggestive, or gender-based comments,” Kim said Tuesday. “A number of them endured both. None of them welcomed it. And all of them found it disturbing, humiliating, uncomfortable and inappropriate.”

Last winter there was a chorus of calls for Cuomo’s resignation from many top elected Democrats in New York, including two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. But Cuomo refused to quit and has been raising money for a fourth term in office.

His position on the allegations has also hardened into one of defiance. Cuomo has always denied touching anyone inappropriately, but he initially said he was sorry if his behavior with women was “misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation.” In recent months, he’s taken a more combative tack, saying he did nothing wrong and questioning the motives of accusers and critics.

He has also questioned the neutrality of the lawyers hired by the attorney general to investigate the

allegations. Kim, was involved in previous investigations of corruption by people in Cuomo’s administration when he was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan. Cuomo hasn’t expressly said why he believes that would make Kim biased.

In the hours leading into James’ announcement, Cuomo’s office issued numerous press releases including the completion of mixed-use housing in Buffalo plans to build a new $3.9 billion terminal at Kennedy Airport and JetBlue’s decision to keep its headquarters in New York. As James was speaking, Cuomo’s publicists sent out a release about reclaiming the sites of old power plants.

The attorney general’s report is expected to play an important role in an ongoing inquiry in the state Assembly into whether there are grounds for Cuomo to be impeached.

The Assembly hired its own legal team to investigate Cuomo’s conduct, plus other allegations of wrongdoing. The legislature is looking into the help Cuomo got from senior aides to write a book about the pandemic, special access that Cuomo relatives got to COVID-19 testing last year, and the administration’s decision to withhold some data on nursing home deaths from the public for several months.

Some members of the judiciary committee have said they expect James’ report to be “critical” for the impeachment investigation.

New York state regulations say sexual harassment includes unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature — from unwanted flirtation to sexual jokes — that creates an offensive work environment, regardless of a perpetrator’s intent.

The governor, in contrast, has repeatedly argued that he did not intend to harass anyone. His office has said he took the state’s mandated sexual harassment training, but has not provided any documentation proving he did.

Cuomo championed a landmark 2019 state law that made it easier for sexual harassment victims to prove their case in court. Alleged victims no longer have to meet the high bar of proving sexual harassment is “severe and pervasive.”

Once hailed as the face of governing competence for his handling of the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo now grapples with growing criticism, even from within his own party.

Here is a timeline of events leading up to the investigation.

Dec. 13, 2020
Lindsey Boylan, a former aide to Cuomo who is running for Manhattan borough president, accused the governor of sexual harassment in a Twitter thread. Boylan tweeted that she was sexually harassed by Cuomo “for years.” At the time, Cuomo’s press secretary Caitlin Girouard said there was “simply no truth to these claims.”

Jan. 28
New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report on nursing home deaths and policies related to the coronavirus pandemic. James found the Cuomo administration vastly underreported nursing home deaths, according to the report. Her office also made a number of other conclusions about questionable policy, including a legal immunity provision put into the 2020-21 state budget for nursing home and hospital executives.

Feb. 11
Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, who became a powerful figure in the Cuomo administration during the pandemic, had a controversial phone call with Democratic state lawmakers. She allegedly told lawmakers that the governor’s office “froze” when it received legislative requests about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes for fear the data would be used as a political weapon.  

In the days that followed, DeRosa and Cuomo clarified they meant that requests from the state Legislature were frozen so that requests from the Department of Justice could be fulfilled. Cuomo insisted lawmakers were told this was happening, which many denied. He also began to assert his only mistake on nursing homes was not correcting misinformation, which left a “void” political opponents filled with false conspiracies.

Feb. 17
Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat from Queens and an outspoken critic of Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes, alleged he received a threatening phone call from the governor. Kim said Cuomo threatened to end his career if he did not issue a statement retracting some of his criticism. Cuomo’s office denied the characterization of the call. Multiple lawmakers and political journalists then came forward to tell stories about bullying behavior from the governor’s office. State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi described it as “the worst kept secret” in Albany.

Feb. 18
It became clear the Department of Justice was investigating the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes related to the pandemic. However, Cuomo continued to downplay this as a political investigation launched against Democratic governors during the administration of former President Donald Trump.

Feb. 24
Lindsey Boylan published additional details regarding alleged sexual harassment by Cuomo, including a forced kiss. The governor, as he did in December, said he respects the rights of women to come forward, but flatly denied Boylan’s allegations.

Feb. 27
A second former staffer, Charlotte Bennett, came forward and accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. Bennett said the governor asked her invasive questions about her personal and sexual life.

Feb. 28
Cuomo issued a flurry of statements, at first attempting to select an attorney to conduct a review of his actions, as well as an apology that was widely criticized. The governor then agreed to allow the state attorney general to hire an independent law firm to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.

March 1
The Office of the Governor formally transmitted a letter to the Office of the Attorney General authorizing an investigation, cooperation of state employees and a public report.

On the same day, a third accuser came forward to the New York Times. Anna Ruch accused Cuomo of inappropriate behavior at a wedding. Unlike Boylan and Bennet, Ruch was not an employee of Cuomo’s at the time the alleged harassment occurred. Her account of aggressive behavior was supported by witnesses, contemporaneous text messages and a picture.

March 2
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced they plan to introduce legislation to strip emergency powers from Cuomo. These powers were granted at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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