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N.Y. Assembly report finds ‘overwhelming evidence’ Cuomo engaged in sexual harassment, used state resources for memoir

Then-New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) in July, the month before he resigned.
Then-New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) in July, the month before he resigned. (Richard Drew/AP)

A report by the New York State Assembly found “overwhelming evidence” that former New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo (D) engaged in sexual harassment and used state workers and resources for his memoir. The report also faulted his administration for undercounting nursing home deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuomo has long denied any wrongdoing, but the results of the Assembly’s eight-month investigation, released Monday, paint a damning portrait of the former governor. Cuomo resigned in August in the face of a likely impeachment by the New York Assembly after a state investigation found that he sexually harassed 11 women and oversaw an unlawful attempt to exact retribution against one of his accusers.

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The report corroborates the stories of two of the women who say Cuomo sexually harassed them and describes how his office diverted workers and resources from handling the deadly health crisis to focus on his book, for which he received $5.2 million. It also found that the former governor directed his staff to withhold or misrepresent information “regarding the effects of COVID-19 on nursing home residents in New York.”

In March, New York House Speaker Carl E. Heastie (D) commissioned the report as an impeachment investigation into the then-governor. Cuomo resigned after state Attorney General Letitia James, now a candidate for governor, released a separate, 165-page report detailing numerous allegations against him.

In a statement Monday, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi dismissed the Assembly’s 46-page report, calling it “hypocritical, revisionist” and saying any inquiry that uses James’s “politically biased investigation as a basis is going to be equally flawed.”

“To date we have not been allowed the opportunity to review evidence in the Assembly’s possession, despite requests to do so and due process was certainly not afforded here,” Azzopardi said.

Cuomo was not interviewed by investigators for the Assembly’s report. The law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell conducted the investigation, which echoes many of the findings in James’s probe. The firm reviewed hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, photographs, text messages, BlackBerry PIN messages, emails, policies, social media accounts and phone call records. Investigators also interviewed, received proffers from or reviewed deposition materials from 212 individuals.

In October, a misdemeanor complaint was filed against Cuomo, accusing him of forcibly touching a woman in the governor’s executive mansion last year. According to the complaint, the alleged incident took place in December 2020. It states that Cuomo “did intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly place his hand under the blouse shirt of the victim” and “onto her intimate body part.”

Earlier this month, an Albany judge postponed until early next year Cuomo’s arraignment in the case, after the district attorney accused the sheriff’s office of “unilaterally and inexplicably” filing a complaint without the consent of the alleged victim.

Judge postpones Cuomo arraignment until January as district attorney criticizes sheriff’s handling of case as ‘potentially defective’

Investigators reviewed the claims made by the women who have accused Cuomo of sexually harassing them and found that there is “overwhelming evidence that the former governor engaged in multiple instances of sexual harassment.” The report detailed the cases of only two of the women, finding that “detailing the repeated sexual harassment against two women is sufficient for purposes of this report.”

“The former governor has challenged these women’s allegations, attempting to analyze them without context and dismissing single incidents as conduct that does not rise to the level of sexual harassment,” the report states. “Such an approach obscures the totality of the former Governor’s conduct toward women, not only in the Executive Chamber but in the workplace more broadly, and even toward his constituents.”

The investigation also provides a detailed breakdown of how Cuomo used government resources and staffing to write, publish and promote his book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

When approving Cuomo’s request to write the book, the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics specifically required that no state property or personnel be used for activities associated with it. According to the report, “One senior state official referred to work on the Book as no different from any other assignment he received from the Executive Chamber during COVID.”

Investigators found that junior members of Cuomo’s administration worked on the book — “and that work was not voluntary.” The report states that staffers were asked by higher-ranking officials to perform tasks related to the book as part of their regular workday. Other senior members of Cuomo’s office and New York state officials also dedicated work hours to the book, attending meetings with agents and publishers, and drafting portions of the text. State officials gathered at the executive mansion to edit the manuscript as lunch was provided. One senior Cuomo official, identified by people familiar with the matter as former Cuomo top aide Melissa DeRosa, sent more than 1,000 emails concerning the book, the report states. The report doesn’t accuse DeRosa of wrongdoing.

In a statement, DeRosa’s lawyer, Paul Shechtman, brushed away the notion that DeRosa worked on the book during her official work hours.

“The short answer is that any involvement Melissa had with the book, she took time off from work, and her time sheets meticulously show that,” Shechtman said.

The investigation found that particular attention was placed on the chapter of the book that talked about the coronavirus in nursing homes. A member of the state’s task force to combat the pandemic was called on to assist in drafting and editing that specific section, so much so that parts of the book echoed the text in a reopening guidance that the governor’s office sent to localities during the pandemic, the report states.

“The time and effort spent on the Book by both the then-Governor and other state officials necessarily detracted from their state duties during the intense period when the then-Governor, Executive Chamber employees and other state officials were continuously engaged in the pandemic response,” the report concludes.

Ultimately, Cuomo’s book sold only around 50,000 copies — but he was contractually paid $5.2 million for it. The public integrity unit within the New York attorney general’s office is still investigating the book and the Cuomo administration’s role in its creation.

In his statement, Cuomo spokesman Azzopardi said the people “who volunteered” to work on the book “were people mentioned in the book and therefore they were involved to make sure the representations concerning them were accurate.”

“Staff who volunteered took time off, evidencing that they were volunteering and not on state time,” he said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is Assembly hype.”

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The Assembly’s report also details how Cuomo’s office worked to withhold information regarding the total number of nursing home residents who died as a result of covid-19 in a New York State Department of Health report. The investigation found that Cuomo and his staff reviewed and edited a draft of the Department of Health’s report multiple times to “combat criticisms” of his March 25, 2020, directive that nursing homes readmit residents who had been diagnosed with covid-19.

Per the Assembly’s report, in August 2020, a senior Department of Health official was remotely testifying before the New York State Senate while a Cuomo administration senior official was in the same room. The Cuomo official wrote a message on a whiteboard suggesting that the health official testify that Cuomo’s March 25 directive was written by the Department of Health and not the governor’s office. This was false, and the health official did not testify as such, the report states.

Cuomo draws bipartisan ire for withholding data on nursing home deaths

While the Department of Health’s report was accurate, it was not fully transparent, the investigation found, because it omitted out-of-facility coronavirus deaths. The initial draft report identified approximately 10,000 nursing home-related fatalities, including both in-facility and out-of-facility deaths. Members of Cuomo’s administration discussed this number and, in an email exchange, a member of the governor’s coronavirus task force said the 10,000 number should not be made public. Subsequently, drafts of the department’s report included a different count — 6,500, which reflected only the in-facility deaths, the Assembly report states.

“Witnesses have stated that the same senior Executive Chamber official who served as the key point person for the Book made the decision that only in-facility deaths would be included in the DOH Report,” the investigation found. That person would be DeRosa, the top Cuomo aide. Shechtman, DeRosa’s lawyer, said in a statement that “any decisions that were made were group decisions” confirmed by the state health commissioner.

Cuomo’s spokesman defended the Department of Health report, saying that it was accurate and that there was “no evidence that the March 25 order resulted in additional fatalities.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of Paul Shechtman, a top aide’s lawyer. The article has been corrected.