In the 165-page report, James’s team details efforts by the Democratic governor’s staff to undermine those who accused him or investigated him. Some of these efforts ran afoul of the law, according to James’s report, while others involved bare-knuckle politics.
In one case, the report says, Cuomo’s team circulated confidential pieces of information about a former aide, Lindsey Boylan, “that were intended to discredit and disparage Ms. Boylan.” The report also says Cuomo’s team had been preparing “a proposed op-ed, originally drafted by the Governor, that contained personal and professional attacks on Ms. Boylan and then sharing (both written drafts and the substance) with a number of current and former Executive Chamber employees.”
The op-ed was ultimately scrapped because, according to the report, many involved felt it would constitute inadvisable “victim shaming.”
Those involved with the larger effort say it was in response to claims Boylan had made about her departure from the governor’s office, but the report found that explanation lacking.
“The confidential internal documents were released to reporters only after Ms. Boylan made allegations of sexual harassment against the Governor, and we do not find credible the claim that they were released only to rebut other statements Ms. Boylan had made days earlier about the manner in which she departed the Executive Chamber,” the report says.
The report also faults top aides in the governor’s office for not reporting a complaint from another staffer, Charlotte Bennett, to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, saying it had been required to do so.
Top aides, the report says, found the complaint credible but said that they didn’t report it because Bennett said she didn’t want to “make waves” and that Bennett had “acted before anything happened.” The report, though, says there is no such exemption to the reporting requirement and essentially says something did indeed happen.
“The New York State Employee Handbook ... clearly states: An employee with supervisory responsibility has a duty to report any discrimination that they observe or otherwise know about,” the report says. “A supervisor who has received a report of workplace discrimination has a duty to report it to GOER, or in accordance with the employing agency’s policy, even if the individual who complained requests that it not be reported.”
The report highlights both of these instances in its section on “improper and retaliatory” responses by the governor’s office.
In another instance with echoes of the Boylan situation, the report says there was talk among top Cuomo aides about spreading, in their words, “oppo” — political jargon for opposition research, or derogatory information — about one of the lead investigators, Joon H. Kim:
“In a March 16 text message from [former Cuomo chief of staff Josh] Vlasto to his colleagues, he noted that ‘Steve [Cohen] told me this morning they are asking him to spread oppo on Joon Kim. Don’t think we want to be getting down with that crowd.’ ”
Cohen, a former Cuomo aide and longtime adviser, “testified that he did not recall anyone asking him to do ‘opposition research,’ but he did note that there may have been discussions from the start of our investigation about the Attorney General’s motivations and the backgrounds of the attorneys selected for the investigation and what they would say if the investigative findings were not favorable,” the report says.
One of the big revelations in the report involves an unnamed state trooper. Cuomo asked to have her be put on his personal security detail, despite her not having the requisite experience, before allegedly engaging in harassing behavior toward her.
It turns out the Albany Times Union had been working on a report about the allegation when a top Cuomo aide, Melissa DeRosa, angrily told an editor that the story was sexist, the report says.
“She testified that her view was that the inquiry itself was sexist, leading to a heated exchange between Ms. DeRosa and Casey Seiler, the editor of the Times Union,” the report says. “Ms. DeRosa testified that she yelled at him, saying, ‘you guys are trying to reduce her hiring to being about looks. That’s what men do.’ ”
Cuomo allegedly tried to smooth things over with the editor, and the story never ran. But the report suggests James’s team sides against DeRosa’s claim of sexism.
“Despite Ms. DeRosa’s accusations of sexism, the Governor’s call to Mr. Seiler, and the State Police’s official response, the truth was, as Trooper #1 informed us and as the documents and other witnesses confirmed, Trooper #1 in fact had been allowed to transfer to the PSU (after meeting briefly with the Governor and at the Governor’s urging) even though she did not meet the three-year service requirement for the PSU,” the report says. “And then the Governor proceeded to engage in a pattern of sexually harassing conduct toward her.”
A final example involves an incident we already knew something about, an effort to enlist a top official in charge of the state’s coronavirus vaccine effort to gauge Cuomo’s remaining political support when the allegations began coming to light.
The New York Times reported in March that Larry Schwartz, a longtime Cuomo adviser who was the state’s vaccine czar, had been asking about Democratic officials’ posture toward Cuomo — raising concerns about a potentially implied or intuited connection between loyalty and vaccination distribution decisions.
The report states the DeRosa had asked Schwartz to make the calls. Schwartz testified that the distribution effort was “formula driven,” suggesting there was no connection between the two, and that he didn’t mix vaccine talk with these conversations, to the best of his recollection. But the report finds Democratic officials would have “reasonably” worried about losing resources if they didn’t toe the line.
It says all but one county executive said they didn’t find the calls to be threatening, but it goes in detail on the one who did feel that way.
“County Executive #1 understood the call to contain an implicit threat linking access to vaccines for County Executive #1’s county, which County Executive #1 had been working with Mr. Schwartz and others in the Executive Chamber to obtain, with County Executive #1’s position on the allegations regarding the Governor,” the report says. “County Executive #1 described himself as ‘stunned’ and unsettled by Mr. Schwartz’s call.”
On March 7, Schwartz called the executive again — just a few minutes after the executive had been discussing county vaccination sites with another staff member.
“County Executive #1 informed us that he found the calls from Mr. Schwartz, someone he did not know well and whose only interaction with him was in the context of vaccines, to be stunning, and that he read implicit threats into the calls,” the report says.
DeRosa told investigators that it didn’t occur to her that county officials might feel pressured by the situation. Schwartz, who also said he began such calls by specifying that he wasn’t calling about the vaccines, acknowledged an “optics problem” and that it would have been better if someone else had handled it.
The report is less harsh on the governor’s team on this point. But it’s difficult to understand how top aides might not have thought better about enlisting someone, as the report emphasizes, “whose only role in the government at that time was the administration and distribution of vaccines.”
An earlier version of this article misspelled Lindsey Boylan's name as Lindsay. The article has been corrected.