Attorney Roberta Kaplan, a co-founder of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, and Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, are now facing questions about their role in Cuomo’s aggressive effort to fight back against his accusers.
Jill Basinger, an attorney for Boylan, said in an interview Wednesday that she and her client were stunned to read in the attorney general’s report that Cuomo’s office consulted with the advocates as they sought to undermine Boylan’s account.
“We were shocked, just shocked that the people that were asked to protect survivors, the very organizations put in place to help people, were being weaponized against Lindsey,” Basinger said, adding: “She didn’t know there were this many people rooting against her.”
Kaplan is described in the attorney general’s report as conferring with Time’s Up President Tina Tchen at the request of a Cuomo adviser about the appropriateness of the letter Cuomo’s aides were preparing to release that pushed back on Boylan by, among other things, attacking her political motivations and denying the legitimacy of her claims. Top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa, who was legally represented during the investigation by Kaplan’s law firm, told investigators that Kaplan was “fine” with the document with some changes.
In a statement, Kaplan said that she tried to respond to the request from the governor’s office in a way consistent with the mission of Time’s Up.
“While it turns out the response was never published, I made it very clear that any response should never shame an accuser,” Kaplan said in a statement when asked about her role in shaping the letter about Boylan. “Given the revelations in the New York Attorney General report, I support and agree with Time’s Up that Governor Cuomo should resign.”
Tchen said in an interview that while she did not remember the particulars of what she discussed with Kaplan, she was angry that Cuomo’s office had tried to use that conversation internally to justify the letter. She said she was confident that she would have pushed back on any effort to attack Boylan.
“You cannot make any attempt to attack or discredit a person who has come forward with allegations,” Tchen said. “Had those parts existed in what was read to me, I would have said, ‘Do not say that.’ ”
David — a onetime lawyer in the governor’s office who called for his former boss to resign this week — suggested changes to the never-released Boylan letter, which was later leaked to reporters, according to the investigation. He later made an effort to get signatures for it, even though he told Cuomo advisers he would not sign it himself, David told investigators. He also provided Cuomo advisers with an internal memo about Boylan, which he had retained after leaving the governor’s office, the report said.
David said in a statement to The Washington Post that when he was first approached about the letter, he was not aware of the extent of the allegations against Cuomo.
“Absent all the facts, I chose not to sign,” David said. “The facts as outlined in the report are devastating. Seeking our engagement without disclosing all of the relevant facts about any and all survivors is reprehensible.”
Cuomo’s office declined to comment.
Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative gay rights group and a critic of the Human Rights Campaign, called on David to resign Wednesday for his role in Cuomo’s defense. The release of the report has also roiled tensions inside the organization. Employees at the Human Rights Campaign participated in an extended and sometimes hostile “open conversation” on Wednesday with David, according to a recording of the session obtained by The Post.
Several people asked David about his possible resignation, and multiple people voiced concern about the damage his role in the Cuomo matter would cause the organization’s brand.
“I am looking at the issue to make sure the brand is not in any way affected,” David said, after saying that he did not plan to resign, according to the recording.
The chairs of the Human Rights Campaign’s two boards of directors, Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson, released a statement on Wednesday expressing “full confidence” in David’s leadership and announcing that his contract had been extended for five more years. But a planned publicity campaign regarding his new contract has been delayed, at David’s request, and will be rolled out in the near future so as not to distract from his call for the governor to resign, according to David.
“This falls in the category of no good deed goes unpunished,” said Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist who serves on the board of Time’s Up and previously served on the board of the Human Rights Campaign. “These leaders simply did what they always do, give good advice to politicians to tell the truth and not attack their accusers. That clearly wasn’t good enough for the cesspool that Cuomo and his office was swimming in. But they stayed away and it isn’t fair to suggest otherwise now.”
The involvement of both Kaplan and David was instigated by DeRosa in December of last year, when Cuomo’s advisers were scrambling to find a way to blunt the political damage of accusations about the governor that Boylan was posting on Twitter, according to the report. Boylan would later accuse Cuomo in detail of sexual harassment in an online post, saying that he, among other things, gave her an unsolicited kiss in his Manhattan office.
The attorney general’s investigation concluded that her claims were credible and that the governor’s behavior toward her was unlawful.
David was a longtime defender of Cuomo, helping him successfully navigate political crises, such as when one of the governor’s top aides was indicted and convicted of corruption. After eight years in the governor’s office, he left to become the head of the Human Rights Campaign in 2019.
Cuomo’s advisers first contacted David for help with the Boylan accusations on Dec. 9, 2020, after Boylan, a former adviser to the governor and candidate for Manhattan borough president, tweeted that Cuomo was “one of the biggest abusers of all time,” according to the report. At the time, she was the only accuser to go public with such a claim.
DeRosa asked David for Boylan’s “full file,” the attorney general’s report said, a reference to documents related to unrelated personnel issues that Boylan had been involved with during her time as a state employee. When he was an attorney in Cuomo’s office, David had counseled Boylan during a personnel complaint against her and had kept documents as a copy of his legal record when he left Albany.
Two days later, David sent documents related to Boylan to Rich Azzopardi, a communications adviser to Cuomo, according to the report.
David said this week that he did not know the documents would be leaked.
“I didn’t know what the purpose was other than to further familiarize themselves with the prior matter,” David said in a statement. “By law, I am required to provide my former client, New York State, with any documents with regard to my representation.”
Days later, according to the report, Boylan tweeted more accusations against Cuomo, including the charge that he had “sexually harassed me for years.” Azzopardi then obtained a separate copy of the personnel files from the counsel’s office and started to give them to reporters in an effort to raise questions about her credibility, according to investigators.
Since the files addressed a personnel matter that did not involve Boylan’s relationship with the governor, one of the authors of a document in the files expressed surprise upon their public release in a contemporaneous diary entry later provided to investigators.
“I didn’t think it was a great rebuttal to what she was saying,” this person wrote, according to the report. “The counseling session didn’t have anything to do with sexual harassment (there was none alleged at the time).”
Around the same time, Cuomo aides testified, the governor began drafting a letter, meant to be signed by his former staff, that would raise questions about Boylan’s account.
“The letter denied the legitimacy of Ms. Boylan’s allegations, impugned her credibility, and attacked her claims as politically motivated,” the report said.
There was significant debate within the governor’s office about the wisdom of this tactic, Cuomo aides later told the attorney general’s office.
One adviser, Dani Lever, the governor’s longtime press secretary and communications director, described it to investigators as “victim shaming.” Another, Annabel Walsh, a longtime senior aide in the governor’s office, said it was unfairly “castigating” a victim.
DeRosa — who told investigators that she had her own qualms about the letter — said Cuomo instructed her to reach out to “some of the folks on the team.” Among the people DeRosa contacted was Kaplan, who had worked with Cuomo’s office in 2019 to extend the statute of limitations for rape in New York.
DeRosa testified that Kaplan read the letter to Tchen, a onetime chief of staff to former first lady Michelle Obama who now serves as president of Time’s Up.
“Both of them allegedly suggested that, without the statements about Ms. Boylan’s interactions with male colleagues, the letter was fine,” the report concluded, citing DeRosa’s testimony. (Kaplan and Tchen were not interviewed by investigators.)
DeRosa later relayed their views to Cuomo, as well as the fact that many other advisers thought it was a bad idea, she told investigators.
A person familiar with Time’s Up, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment, said that Tchen and Kaplan believed the document was an op-ed that was going to be published by former Cuomo staffers, including David.
“We have now learned it was written by the governor and there were questions about releasing it, but none of that was discussed with Time’s Up officials,” this person said. “To be clear, no one asked Times Up about whether to go out with the document. Times Up’s role was limited to what is appropriate and inappropriate to say when there are these kinds of allegations.”
Around the same time, David and other former Cuomo staff were informed of the letter and asked if they would sign it, according to the report. David declined to sign, since he said it contained information that he could not confirm. He said in an interview that he helped revise the letter by suggesting the removal of passages that were problematic. After some revisions, he agreed to read it to other former staff members in an effort to get other signatures, he said.
Investigators in the attorney general’s office found that DeRosa told other former employees that David had said he would sign the letter “if we need him.” David denied that.
During interviews with investigators, multiple witnesses said it did not occur to them that the letter could be seen as retaliatory. David said he “doesn’t think he considered whether the letter was retaliatory because Ms. Boylan was no longer” an employee of the state, according to the report. He said that he did not understand at the time the scope of the allegations she had made against Cuomo.
“It is now crystal clear to me after reading the report that information about the allegations were withheld. These allegations were not disclosed to us,” David said in a statement.
The attorney general’s office concluded that the letter and the leaked personnel files were retaliatory. The investigators said that simply distributing the drafts of the letter, which was never publicly released, had the effect of improperly discouraging others who worked for Cuomo or previously worked for Cuomo from coming forward with claims against the governor.
“The responses to Ms. Boylan’s public allegation of sexual harassment against the Governor constituted unlawful retaliation, in that it was conduct that would ‘dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination,’ ” the report said.