It’s painfully obvious that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has betrayed the public’s trust and can no longer effectively lead New York.
State Attorney General Letitia James released a sobering report Tuesday on her office’s investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment made against Cuomo. After thoroughly reviewing the evidence collected, she concluded that he engaged in these abhorrent acts and violated federal and state laws while doing so. Cuomo also enabled the Executive Chamber to become a hostile work environment, according to the report.
“This is a sad day for New York because independent investigators have concluded that Gov. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and, in doing so, broke the law,” James said in a news release issued Tuesday by her office. “I am grateful to all the women who came forward to tell their stories in painstaking detail, enabling investigators to get to the truth. No man — no matter how powerful — can be allowed to harass women or violate our human rights laws, period.”
Beginning in December, multiple women have accused Cuomo of sexually harassing them. The Executive Chamber authorized James on March 1 to select independent investigators to look into the reported incidents.
“Over the course of the investigation, the investigators interviewed 179 individuals. Those interviewed included complainants, current and former members of the Executive Chamber, state troopers, additional state employees and others who interacted regularly with the governor,” the news release said. “More than 74,000 documents, emails, texts and pictures were also reviewed as evidence during the investigation. Backed up by corroborating evidence and credible witnesses, the investigators detail multiple current or former New York state employees or women outside state service who were the targets of harassing conduct on the part of the governor. As part of the investigation, Gov. Cuomo also sat with the interviewers and answered questions under oath.”
Cuomo denied the most serious allegations, according to James’s office. Investigators reported that he did so by offering “blanket denials” or that he had a “lack of recollection as to specific incidents.”
State Democratic legislators met Tuesday to discuss the report. In March, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie authorized the Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation. Members of the committee are scheduled to meet Monday to work out a timetable.
The reported accounts of unwanted groping, touching and inappropriate comments are disturbing enough. But some members of his administration compounded the problems by retaliating against one of his accusers.
Lindsey Boylan, a former aide, was the first woman to make allegations against Cuomo. In response, confidential files were sent to journalists in an attempt to undermine her credibility.
Those in Cuomo’s inner circle also targeted James during this investigation. They spread rumors that she’s using the probe to build support for a future gubernatorial run. They tried to diminish the authority she legitimately held to carry out this process.
The report by James’s office documented that the Executive Chamber had become “rife with fear and intimidation.” Creating this kind of climate in state government is unacceptable.
Cuomo will have difficulty moving forward; he’ll become obsessed with trying to remain in power. He may even continue with his plans to run for re-election. However, he’s lost the confidence of his colleagues in Albany, numerous other elected officials and members of the public — who would want to support anything he proposes given how toxic he’s become?
There’s no doubt that an impeachment will be a distraction. Many legislators would love nothing better than for Cuomo to resign so they won’t have to deal with the controversy. Like other sex-related scandals involving members of the state Legislature, they’d prefer to sweep all this under the rug and away from the public’s attention.
But to short-circuit this process would be an injustice to the victims of Cuomo’s actions. They deserve to have their stories aired in an open forum. Doing so would compel them to assert on the record that such behavior will never be tolerated by government officials.
Lawmakers must impeach and remove Cuomo from office. Each public and private employee in New York is legally bound to adhere to the state’s sexual harassment policies, and the governor is no exception.
He is not above the law, so legislators need to hold him accountable. Cuomo also should be subject to the crimes he’s reported to have committed documented in James’s report; law enforcement authorities need to review the evidence and prepare the appropriate charges.
No one looks forward to the chaos that will ensue, but this is the price we pay for practicing democracy. Openly debating the accusations against Cuomo will force lawmakers to examine his behavior and make public judgments on how to prevent sexual harassment. Punishing Cuomo by removing him from office will send a strong message that no official will get away with abusing the public’s trust in such a reprehensible manner.