New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced mounting criminal inquiries Wednesday and momentum grew in the state legislature to impeach him in the wake of an explosive report by the state attorney general that found he sexually harassed 11 women in violation of state and federal law.
Ensconced in his Albany mansion, Cuomo remained defiant and declined to resign, assessing with advisers whether there is a path for his political survival, according to people familiar with the conversations. His attorney has called the report “inaccurate” and “biased.”
Four current and former advisers said they expect the governor to be removed eventually but that Cuomo intends to fight the impeachment proceedings expected to begin in the state Assembly later this summer. Several of those close to the third-term governor said privately that they believe the once-powerful Democrat was in denial about his future.
“He’s not the kind of guy who will just resign,” said one person, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. “It’s over, but he won’t admit that yet.”
Even the chair of the state’s Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs, a longtime Cuomo loyalist, called for his resignation, saying the governor had “lost his ability to govern, both practically and morally.” By Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo had no major figures in the state or national Democratic Party defending him — a precipitous fall for man once seen as a party star and White House contender.
The deepening peril for the governor was underscored by news that the district attorneys of Manhattan and Westchester County had sought materials gathered as part of Attorney General Letitia James’s investigation, the first steps toward launching formal criminal probes. Both offices sought information about episodes of alleged harassment by Cuomo that occurred within their jurisdictions, including his conduct toward a female state trooper.
Those inquiries come after Albany County District Attorney David Soares announced Tuesday that his office is pursuing a criminal investigation of the governor.
An official familiar with the matter said James’s office would cooperate with other law enforcement bodies.
Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee of the New York State Assembly, which has been conducting its own investigation of the sexual harassment allegations, is set to meet Monday, and impeachment articles are expected to be drafted later this month, according to people familiar with the committee’s work.
The Assembly has the power to impeach Cuomo with a majority vote, which under the New York Constitution would prompt a trial by the state Senate and a group of senior state judges. That body could remove Cuomo from office by convicting him with a vote of two-thirds of its members.
On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie met with fellow Democrats and announced afterward that “it is abundantly clear to me that the governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority.”
At least 82 of the Assembly’s 150 members — a majority of the body — support beginning impeachment proceedings if Cuomo doesn’t quit, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
“I don’t know of more than a handful of members that would vote against impeachment right now,” a Cuomo adviser said.
The public mood has shifted, as well: a Marist poll taken Tuesday night found that 59% of New Yorkers want Cuomo to resign and only 18% of Democrats would back his reelection.
Still, Cuomo has remained unbowed in the wake of the report’s release.
In a video address released Tuesday afternoon, he said he would continue serving as governor and defended himself as a champion of women and victims of sexual harassment. “The facts are much different than what has been portrayed,” he said.
“He is going to take it to the brink and see if his shamelessness works, and to see where the Assembly really is,” said Jonathan Rosen, a New York political strategist. Rosen said he did not think it would work but added that former president Donald Trump and other politicians had shown “shamelessness” can work.
Even some of Cuomo’s longtime advisers expressed disbelief at his tone in his video response Tuesday and a rebuttal document released by the governor’s office that disputed the characterizations of his accusers and argued that Cuomo maintained a “family” atmosphere in his office. It included eight pages of photographs of Cuomo kissing and hugging other officials in public, and a second exhibit filled with photographs of other prominent Democratic officials, including President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Barack Obama doing the same.
“A joke,” said one. “Who would put that out?” A second person described it as “insane gaslighting.”
Cuomo remained at the governor’s mansion Wednesday with his dog, Captain, while his aides were at the state Capitol assessing the political damage, according to people familiar with the situation.
Key lawmakers, including Heastie, had not spoken to the governor in the past 24 hours, they said.
Some people close to the governor said he hoped the Assembly would take a while to impeach him so he would have time to fight, and that he believed much of the public would still want to hear his side.
But current advisers said the turn against him in the Assembly was probably a fatal blow. While Cuomo wants to make his case to individual members and try to dissuade them from impeachment, it is unlikely to work, they said. And because the governor and his team have a history of tirades against lawmakers — even allies — they have been unable to secure any defenders, former advisers said.
One of the only major figures in New York not to call for Cuomo’s resignation yet signaled Wednesday that he might. The Rev. Al Sharpton planned to finish a series of meetings with local officials in his civil rights group before weighing in, his spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger said, but she added that “it is leaning heavily that they want Gov. Cuomo to resign.”
Separately, Cuomo remains under investigation by federal and state authorities on a number of other issues, including his administration’s handling of nursing home deaths during the pandemic, the preferred access that Cuomo family members were given to coronavirus testing, and work that state employees did on a memoir about his leadership during the pandemic that secured him a $5 million advance.
People close to Cuomo said his team was surprised by the release of the attorney general’s report on Tuesday, which they learned of roughly 10 minutes before it was announced. While Cuomo’s office had prepared for weeks to rebut the report, the team was not ready for some of the accusations, particularly those related to the state trooper, whose account was not previously public.
The trooper, who is in her late 20s, was hired onto Cuomo’s detail after they had a brief exchange, even though she had not yet served the requisite three years to work on his protective detail, investigators said.
The report details an alleged pattern of harassing behavior by the governor toward the trooper while she was on duty in various parts of the state. On several occasions, Cuomo would ask her questions about her attire, such as why she did not wear a dress, the report said. She told him it was impossible to carry a gun while wearing a dress.
Cuomo also told the trooper that his criteria for a girlfriend was someone who “can handle pain,” according to the attorney general’s report.
The governor touched the trooper inappropriately on several occasions, running his finger down her spine when he was standing behind her on an elevator in his New York City office, according to the report. In another episode, Cuomo allegedly ran his hand across the trooper’s stomach as she held the door open for him at an event on Long Island.
“I felt … completely violated because to me … that’s between my chest and my privates,” the trooper testified, adding, “But, you know, I’m here to do a job.”
The offices of both Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Westchester District Attorney Miriam Rocah sought information this week from the attorney general’s office related to Cuomo’s conduct toward the trooper.
In a letter sent Wednesday to James’s office, Vance’s office requested the names and contact information of “two unnamed victims of potential sex crimes incidents that may have occurred in New York County.”
One is the state trooper, who testified that Cuomo engaged in unwanted touching of her body at his New York City office. The other is an individual described as State Entity Employee #1, who said Cuomo tapped and grabbed her buttocks at an event in New York City.
Vance’s office also requested “any and all investigative materials” related to the incidents and to any others that took place in Manhattan.
Rocah is seeking information related to the alleged harassment and unwanted touching of the trooper when she was stationed at the governor’s residence in Mount Kisco, N.Y., in Westchester County, as NBC News first reported.
According to the attorney general’s report, the trooper testified that during the summer of 2019, Cuomo asked whether he could kiss her while she was stationed outside the residence. Fearing what would happen if she refused, the trooper said she froze and responded, “Sure.”
“The Governor then proceeded to kiss Trooper #1 on the cheek and said something to the effect of, ‘oh, I’m not supposed to do that’ or ‘unless that’s against the rules,’ ” the report stated.