Cuomo’s Lawyers Remain Defiant Against Sex-Harassment Claims
(Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo remained defiant in the face of intensifying pressure on the governor to resign, even as the three-term Democrat confronts possible criminal investigations in four New York counties and potential impeachment proceedings.
“I know the difference between putting together a case against a target versus doing independent fact-finding with an open mind,” Cuomo’s lawyer, Rita Glavin, said Friday at a virtual news conference responding to a damning report by New York Attorney General Letitia James accusing Cuomo of sexually harassing 11 women and creating a “climate of fear” in his offices.
The defense laid out by Glavin and Paul Fishman of Arnold and Porter LLC, who represents about 20 employees in the Executive Chamber, was that James sprung her report on them without notice and that many of the allegations were either not true or described out of context.
Cuomo has denied the sexual harassment claims and remains hunkered down in the Governor’s Mansion in Albany. The press briefing was the clearest indication yet that despite calls for his resignation from the White House, the state Democratic party and the Assembly, he wasn’t ready to step down.
“This investigation was conducted in a manner to support a predetermined narrative,” said Glavin, who accused the investigators as acting as “prosecutors, judge and jury.”
The governor’s lawyers said they didn’t get copies of the underlying evidence or interview transcripts and weren’t given a chance to respond to the attorney general’s report before it was released this week.
James’s spokesman, Fabien Levy, noted that Cuomo asked for an independent investigation of the claims.
“There are 11 women whose accounts have been corroborated by a mountain of evidence,” Levy said in a statement. “Any suggestion that attempts to undermine the credibility of these women or this investigation is unfortunate.”
Glavin disputed claims by a number of accusers, including a former staffer who said Cuomo had groped her, and Lindsey Boylan, a former economic development aide who said Cuomo sexually harassed her.
Mariann Wang, an attorney for two of Cuomo’s accusers, said Cuomo’s lawyers’ response ignored “the most fundamental facts: that nearly all these women are employees working for or with the governor, who have been groomed and manipulated by him, the most powerful person in the state.”
Glavin also declined to comment directly on the allegation that Cuomo harassed a state trooper on his security detail. Glavin said the governor wished to address the accusation “soon.” She said Cuomo wanted more female troopers on his staff and initially sought to hire the unidentified officer because “he liked how she maintained eye contact.”
Earlier Friday, the Albany County sheriff’s office confirmed that it had received a criminal complaint against Cuomo by a former staffer included in the attorney general’s report. According to James’s report, Cuomo reached under the staffer’s blouse and grabbed her breast while at the Executive Mansion. Cuomo’s office didn’t respond to reports of the complaint on Friday but a spokesman said it had informed the Albany police department of the groping accusation in March after the aide made claims that surfaced in the Albany Times-Union.
The governor’s attorneys were given until Aug. 13 to turn over any evidence or other materials to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which is deciding whether to proceed with an impeachment inquiry.
The panel is scheduled to meet Monday. Lawmakers have also asked the state attorney general’s office to forward any evidence related to its findings, released this week, that Cuomo broke state and federal harassment laws. The attorney general’s report said Cuomo, 63, groped the former staffer and gave unwanted kisses, hugs and touches to multiple women, including the trooper on his detail.
Cuomo and some of his aides also retaliated against at least one former employee for coming forward, James said Tuesday announcing the report.
Cuomo denied the findings of James’s report in a taped rebuttal Tuesday. “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” he said. “That is just not who I am or who I have ever been.”
In an email sent Wednesday to attorneys Joon Kim and Anne Clark, who conducted the attorney general’s investigation into Cuomo as special deputies, lawyers for the Executive Chamber expressed the governor’s “deep concerns” about the fairness of the investigation.
In the 11-page letter sent the day after the report was published, the attorneys listed off several of the same concerns outlined in their press conference Friday. The lawyers called into question, among other things, the reasoning behind not sending the report to those involved in advance and the integrity of Kim, who previously investigated Cuomo years earlier.
The governor also issued his own 85-page report challenging the allegations and accusing the attorney general of ignoring evidence and the governor’s testimony. Part of his defense was that he frequently touched many people, not just young female staffers, according to the report, which Glavin signed off on.
In her response, Glavin said the governor “was stunned” by the groping claim and denied it happened, saying he lived his life “under a microscope” and wouldn’t behave that way.
Glavin questioned whether the attorney general interviewed other staffers who were in the Executive Mansion during the time. Glavin said a timeline reconstructed by Cuomo’s lawyers disproves the accuser’s narrative and cited emails from the staffer commenting about how she was enjoying eating cheese and crackers at the Executive Mansion.
“She was joking while she was there. She was eating snacks and even offered to stay longer when the work was done,” Glavin said.
Glavin also said that if Cuomo slammed a door behind him, which the accuser said occurred before he groped her, none of the staffers present heard it and the sound would have echoed in the old building.
Cuomo’s lawyers also questioned the credibility of Boylan, the former economic aide who said she resigned because of a toxic work environment. On Friday, Cuomo’s lawyer said Boylan resigned when confronted by internal complaints and subsequently asked for her job back.
“We know they have left material out,” Glavin said of the attorney general’s report. “The governor deserves to be treated fairly.”
Boylan didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wang, who does not represent Boylan, said the fact an aide might try to continue with her day or act “normal” even after being harassed is a common behavior experienced by sexual harassment victims. “Going about your day and trying to act like it is a regular day is not strange. It is an act of self-preservation,” she said.
James’s report spurred new calls for Cuomo to resign from Democrats as high as President Joe Biden, a turnaround in support for a politician who just last year was touted as a pandemic leader and a possible Democratic presidential candidate.
The James investigation spanned five months and examined 74,000 pieces of evidence, including e-mails, text messages and photographs. His conduct was not just “old-fashioned, affectionate behavior” but “unlawful,” said Anne Clark, one of the outside lawyers who worked on the report.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Friday found that seven out of 10 registered New York voters believe Cuomo should resign, with only a quarter saying he should not. That’s compared to a March poll shortly after lawmakers began calling for his resignation, where 43% said he should resign and 49% said he should not.
The most recent poll was conducted from Aug. 4-5, after the attorney general’s report was released, and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
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