ALBANY, NY – Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at times appeared belligerent and paranoid in an 11 a.m. statement, made public on Wednesday, denying the sexual harassment allegations that forced him from office, while attributing political motives to the people who examined his behaviour.
Meanwhile, in their own interviews, his accusers have described a “toxic” workplace in the Cuomo administration, where they said they were subjected to rude comments, creepy questions about their sex lives, hazing and bullying.
New York Attorney General Letitia James Wednesday released hundreds of pages of transcripts of interviews a team of independent investigators conducted earlier this year with 10 of Cuomo’s accusers, plus the governor himself.
The interviews, led by former acting U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Joon Kim and employment attorney Anne Clark, focused primarily on the serious allegations against Cuomo, including a claim that he groped an assistant’s chest after summoning her to his office in 2020. .
But they also produced strange exchanges and offered a glimpse into Cuomo’s confrontational style. Here are notable moments from the many hours of testimony:
SHOW A LEG
Several former employees testified in detail about Cuomo and other men on his staff who spoke of women in a degrading and disparaging manner.
Brittany Commisso, the assistant who said Cuomo groped her at the mansion last year, said the governor would look at her from head to toe and ask if she’d ever had sex with anyone other than her husband.
“He would make comments about whether I was wearing a certain thing, how thin I looked,” Commisso said. “That I looked good for my age and being a mother.”
“If I wore a dress, he said it’s time you showed a leg,” she said.
When former assistant Charlotte Bennett was promoted to executive assistant, she bought heels to wear because colleagues made it clear that Cuomo expected it.
“It felt like we had gone back a few decades,” Bennett said.
Cuomo said he might call the women on his staff “darling,” “darling,” or “darling.”
“You know, once in my life ‘darling’ was a beautiful thing to say, ‘darling’ was a beautiful thing to say,” he said. “It’s no more.”
When asked if he regretted anything he’d said to women in the workplace, Cuomo answered “no.”
SIGNATURE OF CUOMO
In his testimony, Cuomo suggested that he gave his office manager the power to sign legislation on his behalf.
Cuomo said Stephanie Benton could sign “pretty much any document” that came to his desk. Sometimes she used an autopen machine that replicated Cuomo’s signature. Or she just scribbled his name herself.
“I’m not asking about autosigning,” Kim clarified. ‘I ask if I can physically sign a document. Did Stephanie Benton physically sign the bills for you, legislation?”
“Maybe,” Cuomo said.
Hours later, at the urging of his attorney, Cuomo clarified that Benton only used the autopen device when signing legislation.
Cuomo acknowledged that he had not completed mandatory sexual harassment training in 2020 or 2021, and said he was focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. That contradicted what Cuomo told reporters in May, when he said he had attended training “this year.”
The issue of his signature came up when he acknowledged that it may have been Benton who signed his name on a 2019 form confirming that he had completed the state’s annual mandatory sexual harassment training course.
Cuomo was confrontational with Kim and Clark, saying their investigation was “biased” and “political”.
He complained that James’ selection of Kim was “a perversion” of what he said was his condition that she choose an “independent reviewer” to lead the investigation, because Kim, as federal prosecutor, was investigating Cuomo’s government.
Cuomo also suggested that Kim was a puppet to his predecessor as US attorney, Preet Bharara, and “his rabbi,” US Senator Chuck Schumer.
Kim usually didn’t respond to the attacks, but at one point he asked if Cuomo was looking for “negative information” about lawyers in the investigation.
“Well, what are you worried about, Joon?” said Cuomo.
Cuomo closed the statement with another jab to Kim: “I’d like to say it was a pleasure, Mr. Kim. But I am under oath.”
Former assistant Charlotte Bennett, who described the culture in Cuomo’s office, said the staff was afraid to meet him and would sometimes be in tears afterward.
“It was largely controlled by his mood, and he was surrounded by people who made his behavior possible,” Bennett said. “… That mood and that anger, or that fear that he would suddenly get angry, absolutely dominated the office and then trickled down.”
The governor would bang his fist against a door in frustration, lash out if calls weren’t put through or if he didn’t look good in photos, and once told a top aide that he was lucky he didn’t throw him out the door. windown.
“It just depended on the day and the mood he was in, but it wasn’t uncommon for me to get in trouble for something ridiculous,” testified a former assistant known only as Kaitlin.
Cuomo and several former employees all testified about a nickname used in the office for his top assistants: “the mean girls,” a group that includes his hard-working top adviser, Melissa DeRosa.
Cuomo testified that he was aware of the nickname, but dismissed it as “silly gossip” coined by a former male staffer. Cuomo also argued that it is sexist to portray successful female employees as “catty.”
Bennett said the “mean girls” were part of Cuomo’s efforts to sow division among his employees.
“As if his test puts someone in a position where they are being abused by those around him and not just directly from him,” Bennett testified.
When she was promoted to executive assistant, Bennett said a departing staff told her she was expected to buy Cuomo coffee and would not be reimbursed.
Bennett provided investigators with 20 Dunkin Donuts receipts that she said she had kept because, “I was angry and thought it was wrong, and also just wanted to know how much money I was spending on this venture.”
Bennett said the receipts, totaling $61.02 from May 2019 to February 2020, only reflect a few times she bought Cuomo coffee. She said she would usually give her credit card to a driver who would pick up the order.
“I was on a base salary and I was spending money for the New York governor,” Bennett told the researchers.
“DO YOU LOVE ME”
In his testimony, Cuomo denied Bennett’s claim that he ever sang the Contours song “Do You Love Me” to her.
“I don’t even know that number,” Cuomo said in the July statement.
In August, along with the investigative report on Cuomo, the attorney general’s office released a recording of Cuomo singing the song to Bennett.
In the recording, an awkward moment passes before Cuomo realizes that the much younger Bennett doesn’t know the song.
“It’s like, the ’50s,” Cuomo said on the recording. “It’s even before my time.”
At times, Cuomo seemed to make it difficult for his interrogators for sports.
Asked if it was true that he told a woman in his office that she looked like one of his ex-girlfriends, Cuomo went on to argue with Kim over four pages of testimonials about the definitions of “date” and “girlfriend.”
“Do you understand what a girlfriend is?” asked Kim.
“Well, girlfriend means different things to different people,” Cuomo said.
Sisak and Beaty reported from New York.
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