New York governor Andrew Cuomo “sexually harassed multiple women,” the state’s attorney general Letitia James said Tuesday as she announced the findings of an independent investigation into the powerful Democrat that prompted immediate calls for his resignation.
The explosive report, which was swiftly made public, details allegations by 11 women that paint a “deeply disturbing yet clear” picture of a pattern of abusive behaviour by the governor and his senior staff, James said.
But it was not clear if he would face criminal prosecution, with James saying the investigation was “civil in nature.”
As for whether he would stay in office, she said, “that decision ultimately is up to the governor of the state of New York. The report speaks for itself.”
The five-month investigation “has concluded that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and in doing so violated federal and state law,” James told a news conference.
She said investigators had found that Cuomo “sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous comments of a suggestive sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.”
The investigation also found that Cuomo and his senior team took retaliatory action against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story, she said.
In recent months multiple women have publicly denounced what they said were inappropriate words and gestures from Cuomo, who drew praise nationwide for his pandemic response early in the crisis.
Cuomo, who is expected to respond later Tuesday, has denied sexual harassment and has so far refused calls to resign that have come even from fellow New York Democrats and party members in the US Congress.
In March President Joe Biden said that if the accusations against Cuomo are proven he should go.
Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, was one of the first to call for Cuomo to face consequences over the report.
“Governor Cuomo must resign and be arrested immediately,” she tweeted.
New York lawmakers also reacted swiftly, with state senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins saying it “should be clear to everyone that he can no longer serve as governor.”
Carl Heastie, the speaker of the New York assembly, said the report indicated “someone who is not fit for office” and that the report would be examined by lawmakers.
The investigators released some of the details of the allegations against Cuomo during the news conference.
One former employee said Cuomo slipped his hand under her blouse last year, while a trooper on Cuomo’s protective detail said he inappropriately touched her stomach and hip.
His conduct was “not just old fashioned affection and behaviour as he and some of his staff would have it, but unlawful sex-based harassment,” said Anne Clark, one of the lawyers heading the investigation.
She said that Cuomo himself, when interviewed by investigators, responded with “a mixture of admitting to certain things but putting a different spin on them and denying others.”
But none of the women welcomed his attentions, the other lawyer leading the probe, Joon Kim, said. “All of them found it disturbing, humiliating, uncomfortable and inappropriate.”
Clark also detailed one incident where Cuomo prepared a letter he wanted to release to the press attacking one of the alleged victims, though he was ultimately persuaded not to publicize it.
And Kim said Cuomo and his staff fostered a “climate of fear” keeping women from speaking out. “It was a culture where you could not say not to the governor,” he said.
The investigators said that at least one report has been made to police about Cuomo’s behavior, and that their findings can be used by officers in investigations against the governor.
The women involved can also decide whether they want to take civil action against Cuomo, they said.
James praised the women, saying the investigation had found that all 11 were credible.
“I am inspired by all the brave women who came forward. But more importantly, I believe them,” she said.