“We, the investigators appointed to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, conclude that the Governor engaged in conduct constituting sexual harassment under federal and New York State law.”
With those 35 words from the investigators in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office, the political career of the New York Democrat likely has come to an end.
That pronouncement came after a months-long investigation that included interviews with 179 people and the reviewing of more than 74,000 documents. And ended with the stunning finding that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, including state employees and a New York state trooper. He also retaliated against one woman who had gone public with her allegations against him, according to the AG report.
“Our investigation revealed that these were not isolated incidents,” said Joon Kim, one of the lawyers who led the investigation. “They were part of a pattern.”
Cuomo was defiant in an appearance following the release of the James report. He posted a point-by-point response to the allegations laid out by the state’s attorney general and insisted that the “facts are much different” than portrayed in that report. The governor also doubled down on his total innocence; “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made any inappropriate sexual advances,” he said.
Cuomo has, for months, bought time by insisting that he wouldn’t offer any comment about the various allegations against him until James’ report came out. “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion,” he said this spring at the height of the furor over the allegations against him.
Well, the report is now out. And it paints Cuomo as a repeat offender, not the unfortunate victim of a single misunderstanding. And makes his assertion from March that “people know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture, and the truth” ring true — just not in the way that Cuomo intended.
“I think he should resign,” President Joe Biden said of the governor Tuesday afternoon.
While Cuomo allies have been trying in recent months to paint the James investigation as a political endeavor driven by a politician who would like his job, the details and length of the report make it very hard to sell that case in the court of public opinion. (Which, of course, doesn’t mean Cuomo won’t try!)
So, what now?
Cuomo will have to decide if he will resign his office or announce that he will forgo his planned bid for a fourth term next fall. While the report may alter that personal calculus, he was defiant in the face of calls to resign in the spring. (Much of the New York congressional delegation as well as Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand called on him to resign at that point.)
“I’m not going to resign, I was not elected by the politicians, I was elected by the people,” said Cuomo at a news conference on March 12. If that’s what he truly believes, then there’s no way he walks away before the end of his term.
Cuomo announcing he won’t seek a fourth term seems more likely. But there’s a bit of personal psychology tied up in Cuomo’s desire for a fourth term that might make it difficult for him to walk away. His father, the late Mario Cuomo, ran and lost his bid for a fourth term as governor to a little-known state legislator named George Pataki back in 1994. Andrew Cuomo would very much like to do what his father never could.
It’s possible, of course, that the Democratic-led legislature in the Empire State will take the decision out of Cuomo’s hands entirely.
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has the power to begin impeachment proceedings against the governor, blasted Cuomo in a statement released just after the James report. “The conduct by the Governor outlined in this report would indicate someone who is not fit for office, said Heastie. He did not announce any plans to begin impeachment proceedings, but noted cryptically: “We will have more to say in the very near future.”
Knowing where the voting public comes down on all of this is simply impossible at the moment given the recency of the report and its findings. And the results were mixed even before Tuesday’s bombshell.
While 61% of Democrats had a favorable opinion of Cuomo and 53% said that the Assembly shouldn’t impeach him in a late June Siena College Research Institute poll that same survey showed that more than half of Democrats wanted Cuomo to resign immediately (13%) or not run for another term in 2022 (40%).
Presumably the number of women listed in the James report and the credibility that investigators found in their allegations will change some minds about what Cuomo should do next.
The last six years in politics have taught me — and should teach all of us — not to make any definitive predictions about how the public will react to allegations of this sort against a politician.
But it’s extremely hard to see any sort of path — today at least — for Cuomo to stay in office beyond 2022. If he even makes it that long.