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Melissa DeRosa, top aide to Cuomo, resigns in wake of state attorney general’s report

Melissa DeRosa served as New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s top aide since 2017. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

The top aide to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo resigned on Sunday night after the release last week of a searing report by the state attorney general’s office that detailed her role in an effort to discredit a former aide who accused Cuomo of harassment.

The departure of Melissa DeRosa, who held the title of secretary to the governor, represents a huge blow to Cuomo. She served as his fiercest defender and top aide since 2017, and was considered the ultimate loyalist after working for him for the past decade.

“It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve the people of New York for the past 10 years,” DeRosa said in a statement late Sunday. “New Yorkers’ resilience, strength, and optimism through the most difficult times has inspired me every day. Personally, the past 2 years have been emotionally and mentally trying. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such talented and committed colleagues on behalf of our state.”

The Post’s Philip Bump analyzes what might happen to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) following an investigation of sexual harassment allegations. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

DeRosa is the first aide in Cuomo’s inner circle to resign after New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report that found that the governor sexually harassed 11 women in violation of state and federal law.

Cuomo has repeatedly refused to resign, even after President Biden and nearly every Democratic official in New York politics have said he should step down. The New York State Assembly is set to move forward with an expedited impeachment process Monday. One of his executive assistants has filed a formal criminal complaint against the governor, and at least four district attorney’s offices in New York are criminally investigating his conduct.

Cuomo report spotlights role of top aide Melissa DeRosa in trying to contain sexual harassment crisis

DeRosa, the daughter of a powerful Albany lobbyist, has long played an influential role in Cuomo’s orbit, one that has only grown in recent years with the departures of other key aides, according to current and former administration officials.

She was known for her bare-knuckle and profane style and was disliked by many of her colleagues. In the past year, she has come under scrutiny both for the tactics she had used to defend him and her role in a number of controversies, including the administration’s handling of deaths in nursing homes linked to covid-19.

But DeRosa had the governor’s ear, and she said attacks on her were sexist.

Throughout the attorney general’s report, DeRosa is mentioned by name 187 times — as much as Cuomo. She is portrayed as a constant force, taking part in an alleged effort to discredit one of his accusers, lining up women and elected officials to defend him and even confronting and chastising the governor about his behavior at one point.

In December, after former aide Lindsey Boylan tweeted that the governor was “one of the biggest abusers of all time,” DeRosa asked a former lawyer to the governor for Boylan’s “full file,” according to investigators.

Cuomo aides then distributed Boylan’s personnel record, which included internal complaints, to a number of reporters — actions that violated laws prohibiting retaliation against victims of sexual harassment, the report said.

On another occasion, DeRosa allegedly asked a former staffer to call and record a state employee who had tweeted about Boylan supportively, looking to ferret out what further claims might emerge, according to the report.

But she didn’t use the tape, ultimately, the report said. “It didn’t go well,” DeRosa told investigators.

In a 13-page letter, Cuomo’s lawyers have disputed the attorney general’s conclusion that the actions taken in the Boylan case were illegal retaliation. DeRosa’s lawyer, Sean Hecker, has said that she “consulted with and relied upon advice of experienced counsel” when it came to questions about how a complaint should be handled, or whether personnel records could be provided to the public.

DeRosa also tried to squelch a news story scrutinizing whether state rules were changed so an inexperienced female state trooper could join Cuomo’s detail, the attorney general’s report found.

The trooper was repeatedly harassed by Cuomo, who touched her back and stomach, kissed her and made comments about her appearance, investigators said.

And in March, as more allegations about the governor emerged publicly, DeRosa called Larry Schwartz, the state’s vaccine czar, and asked him to phone county executives and inquire whether they were going to be calling for the governor’s resignation, the report said.

Although Schwartz said he made clear to county officials that he was not making the calls in his role as vaccine czar, county leaders told investigators they were aware of his ability to influence the distribution of vaccine doses at a time when they were urgently needed. One described himself as stunned and unsettled by the conversation.

People who have spoken to DeRosa in the past week said she remained defiant — and even went after journalists on Twitter on Thursday evening. But by Friday, she had deleted her tweets.