New York Attorney General Letitia James has released a damning 165-page report on the multiple women who have come forward — some publicly, some confidentially to investigators — to accuse Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment in the workplace. Eleven women’s stories are examined in detail, and they hang together.
The easy conclusion from reading the report is to say, as many in Cuomo’s own party have said, that Cuomo ought to resign his office. That what we’ve heard from, among others, the president and the senior senator from New York, and it is a good first step. But Cuomo is defiant, which raises the question: What will Democrats do to make him go away?
James’s report was compiled with relentless thoroughness by a team of outside lawyers headed by a veteran federal prosecutor and an experienced sexual-harassment lawyer. The picture painted by the report shows a powerful man who put pervasive pressure on younger women in his orbit: groping their breasts and rear ends, kissing them (sometimes on the mouth), asking about their sex lives and willingness to date an older man, even arranging the transfer of a female state trooper to his protective detail before harassing her. He told the trooper that his criteria for a girlfriend is someone who “can handle pain,” which seems an epic understatement.
This goes well beyond the occasional stray comment or the touchy-feely overzealousness of a backslapping politician. It is a grotesque abuse of power.
Most of the incidents in the report took place in the past five years of Cuomo’s tenure as governor, so judging Cuomo’s behavior involves neither reliance upon long-faded memories nor the evaluation of acts decades in the past when social standards were different or the offender was very young. The conduct detailed in the report goes well beyond anything that could plausibly be deemed in bounds — regardless of the era.
Moreover, Cuomo is a professional politician. Keeping up with how the world is changing around him is part of his job. His public statements and initiatives over the years very clearly show that he knows full well what is considered inappropriate in the world of the 2010s and 2020s. He just didn’t care.
Cuomo was not alone in this venture. He was enabled by those around him in creating a culture of fear and intimidation, and the next governor should clean house. It is also clear that he was being privately advised on handling the fallout by his brother, Chris, adding yet more proof that CNN has acted outrageously by allowing Chris Cuomo to lend the platform of his national television program to his brother.
What next? All too many misbehaving politicians have learned the playbook for riding out storms until public attention moves on, or rallying their own tribes to take the focus off themselves. If there is hope for toppling Cuomo, it begins with the deep and bitter divisions between the state’s establishment Democrats and the progressives who loathe Cuomo. But the progressives took their shot and lost in the 2018 primary, and putting them in power could truly drive the state into the ditch.
It would behoove the two wings of the party to move together against Cuomo. A sounder approach, and one that does not require awaiting the 2022 election, would be to proceed more swiftly to impeachment and removal of the governor, perhaps even bringing charges solely on sexual harassment. New York City’s Democratic mayoral candidate, Eric Adams, has called for impeachment to go forward.
Republicans in the legislature would like to drag out the investigation to cover broader-ranging topics of corruption and malfeasance, but they would doubtless ultimately support Cuomo’s removal from office regardless of which of the several available grounds are chosen. While Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is no prize, neither is she part of the far-left wing of the state party represented by James, Bill de Blasio, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Finally, at the core of Cuomo’s misbehavior is the arrogance of power, which was also evident in his efforts to cook the books on nursing-home deaths that resulted from his reckless COVID-19 policies. New York has not elected a Republican governor since 2002. If the voters want to see Albany’s house truly swept clean, they should consider ending that drought.