NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded Tuesday to findings by the state attorney general that he sexually harassed multiple state workers as well as women outside of his administration.
In a recorded statement, the governor dismissed the findings from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation, which he alleged was not impartial.
“The facts are much different than what has been portrayed,” Cuomo said. “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances. That is just not who I am and that’s just not who I’ve ever been.”
Cuomo said his lawyers had produced a point-by-point rebuttal of some of the allegations made against him. He also aired a photo montage of himself kissing, hugging, and touching people at public events throughout the years and made the argument that this behavior was “meant to convey warmth, nothing more.”
“I actually learned it from my mother and from my father … I do it with everyone; Black and white, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, people who I meet on the street,” he said. “I do kiss people on the forehead…I do embrace people. I do hug people: men and women. I do on occasion say ‘ciao bella.’ On occasion I do slip and say sweetheart…I am the same person in public as I am in private.”
The nearly five-month-long 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.
James said the team also reviewed more than 74,000 pieces of evidence, including documents, emails, text messages, audio files and pictures.
Employment lawyer Anne Clark, who led the probe with former U.S. Attorney Joon Kim, said they found 11 accusers to be credible, noting 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: Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws,” James said.
In his response, Cuomo specifically addressed allegations by former aide Charlotte Bennett. The governor said Bennett had told him she was a sexual assault survivor and “her story resonated deeply” with him because he had helped a family member through a similar experience.
“I did ask her questions I don’t normally ask people,” he said, but added: “They read into comments that I made and drew inferences that I never meant.”
The governor then apologized to Bennett.
“I am truly and deeply sorry,” he said.
Cuomo also appeared to reject calls for his resignation, saying he would “not be distracted” from his work as governor.
The investigation’s findings 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.
Though James’ investigation concluded without any referrals to criminal prosecutors, local authorities could decide to use its evidence and findings to mount their own cases. The report was also expected to play an important role in an ongoing inquiry in the state Assembly into whether there are grounds for Cuomo to be impeached.
Several of Cuomo’s 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.
“Resign, @NYGovCuomo,” Bennett tweeted.