andrew Cuomo

HIS WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN: A year ago, Governor Cuomo was riding high as he prepared to seek a fourth term and was the author of a best-selling book about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The release of the transcripts of both his testimony and that of witnesses against him in a sexual-harassment probe Nov. 10 did further damage to a man who is out of a job and facing further disgrace and possible criminal charges for some of his actions and those of top aides during the crisis, which led his publisher to stop publicizing the book, killing its sales.

Shortly after he lost the 1977 mayoral election to Ed Koch, Mario Cuomo acknowledged that he had been too smart for his own good when his treatment of his rival in debates during the runoff for the Democratic nomination came off as too strident.

His son Andrew, who had just a peripheral role in that campaign as a 19-year-old, appeared to have forgotten that lesson, judging by the transcript released Nov. 10 and an audio recording that refuted one of his claims during the sexual-harassment inquiry four months ago by two outside investigators tapped by State Attorney General Letitia James.

Swimming in Semantics

The 515-page record of his July 17 questioning by former Federal prosecutor Joon H. Kim and Anne L. Clark, an attorney specializing  in employment discrimination, showed him to be defiant virtually from the outset, when he took issue with Mr. Kim's describing himself as a Special Deputy to the Deputy Attorney General, rather than to Ms. James—who ironically had commissioned the inquiry at the then-Governor's request after a string of sexual-harassment allegations were lodged against him, primarily by former or present aides.

When Mr. Kim, the former Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, as a formal reading of his rights reminded Mr. Cuomo that "you have the right not to answer questions if you believe it will incriminate you," he responded, "I understand. I'm a former [State] Attorney General. I'm aware of the Attorney General's power, I'm aware of the Special Prosecutor power, independent investigator power, and I understand there may be subsequent investigations to this investigation, yes."

He then several times cut off Mr. Kim's explanation that "we're advising you of your rights," repeatedly insisting, "I understand."

But Mr. Cuomo apparently forgot the first principle of a good trial attorney: never to ask a question to which he or she couldn't anticipate the answer. And so when Mr. Kim further into the inquiry asked him whether he ever sang, to one of the women who accused him, Charlotte Bennett, "Do You Love Me," a mid-1960s R&B hit by the Contours, the then-Governor denied knowing the song.

At that point, Mr. Kim played an audio recording provided by Ms. Bennett in which Mr. Cuomo offered a rendition of the song's opening lines that could have gotten him sued for ruining a classic oldie, while throwing into doubt his credibility on more-substantive matters.

Ties Him to 'Rabbi' Schumer

The dissembling third-term Governor pointedly challenged Mr. Kim's objectivity, noting that he had been part of a probe into his conduct seven years earlier led by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara over Mr. Cuomo's premature shutdown of a Moreland Commission that he himself had created to probe possible state corruption, because the panel had begun looking hard at some of his major financial supporters.

Neither that probe nor another one that led to the 2018 convictions on corruption charges of two of the Governor's top aides, including the man who had been his closest political confidant, Joseph Percoco, led to allegations against Mr. Cuomo. And at the time the 2016 indictments in the Buffalo Billion case were announced, Mr. Bharara took the unusual step of emphasizing that there was no evidence that he was involved in any wrongdoing.

But the then-Governor said Mr. Kim was compromised by his long association with Mr. Bharara, and both men's objectivity was in question because, as he told it, they shared the same political "rabbi," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who in March was among those calling for him to step down based on the initial harassment allegations.

It didn't seem to matter to Mr. Cuomo that Mr. Schumer was just one of dozens of Democratic elected officials in the stateand a similar number of Republican oneswho called for his resignation then.

A Signature Squabble

Among the accusations Ms. Bennett madethe most-damaging of which was that the then-Governor in June 2020 had tried to seduce her while asking intrusive questions about how a sexual assault while she was a college student had affected her ability to be intimate with menwas that Stephanie Benton, a longtime office manager often referred to as Mr. Cuomo's gatekeeper, had claimed she took a state sexual-harassment training course for him.

When he was asked whether the signature on his course form dated Oct. 8, 2019 came from him or Ms. Benton, the then-Governor replied that it might have come from either of them.

"Sometimes I will sign and then say, 'Fill it out,' or sometimes I'll say, 'Sign it and then fill it out,' " he told Mr. Kim and Ms. Clark. He added that Ms. Benton signs "almost any document that comes across my desk...I sign very few actually myself."

He was asked about a Dec. 5, 2020 tweet by Lindsey Boylan, a former top economic-development aide, that stated "Most toxic team environment? Working for @New York Gov Cuomo."

He denied having seen it, testifying, I don't read tweets. If I read all the tweets about me, I would pull out my hair, whatever's left."

He said he was not involved in the decision by several top staffers to release damaging entries in Ms. Boylan's state personnel file, and contended that she had gone from saying complimentary things about him in the past to ripping him because she had run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler and was trying to draw attention to her campaign.

Tactic Backfired

Asked about what Ms. Boylan claimed was an effort to discredit her accusations by leaking portions of her personnel file, he said he wasn't aware of the contents but "I think there was a suggestion about racial discrimination. Fired people illegally, harassing, bullying."

The attacks on her by Cuomo loyalists prompted Ms. Boylan to subsequently publish an essay in Medium a couple of months later detailing her charges against the Governor, including the claim that he had touched and kissed her inappropriately, and once during a flight following a state business trip had asked whether she'd like to play strip poker.

Mr. Cuomo and several aides who were present on that flight denied he had made that remark, but Ms. Bennett said Ms. Boylan's article was what inspired her to go public with her charges of harassment last February, seven months after she had told two top legal staffers in the Governor's Office that she didn't want to pursue her claim of inappropriate conduct.

He heatedly denied the allegation by one longtime aide, Brittany Commisso, that last December he summoned her to the Governor's Mansion on a pretext, then approached her from behind, stuck his hand inside her blouse and groped her breast, telling the investigators, "To touch a woman's breast who I hardly known, in the mansion, with 10 staff around, with my family in the mansion, to say 'I don't care who sees us,' " was too ridiculous to be true.

But Ms. Commisso told Mr. Kim and Ms. Clark that she initially feared reporting what she regarded as a sexual assault because of concern that "I would be taken away by the State Police Officers and I would be the one that would get in trouble and I would be the one to lose my job, not him."

A Trooper's Story

One of the most-damaging allegations against the then-Governor did not surface until a female State Trooper spoke to the investigators. Mr. Cuomo by his own admission had urged her to transfer into his personal protective detail. Other State Police officials testified he had ordered a change in the experience requirement for assignment to the protective unit because at the time she lacked the needed three years' service as a Trooper to join it.

Mr. Cuomo claimed it was part of his attempt to bring greater diversity to the detail by adding women and people of color, but the Trooper, who has not been identified, said that in their dealings, "He tried to be flirtatious. A lot of times, it came off creepy."

On one occasion, she claimed, the then-Governor ran a finger down her spine while they were in an elevator and she was standing in front of him. On another, in view of another Trooper, she accused him of pressing his hand against her stomach and running it across, something she said made her feel "completely violated" and professionally undermined in front of a colleague.

Mr. Cuomo insisted to the investigators that he had not touched her in the elevator, and said that if he touched her on the second occasion, when she was holding a door open for him, it had been "incidental."

There were similar canyons separating his version of interactions with Ms. Bennett and her account of several instances where she was alone in his office with him for extended periods.

Where he claimed he had tried to offer fatherly counsel to a young woman who had been a sex-assault victim, she told the investigators that the then-62-year-old Governor thought an appropriate romantic partner for him would be a woman of 22 or slightly older. Then 25, she tried to back him off by pointing out that she had been a middle-school classmate of one of his three daughters, who were all in their 20s, but said he didn't take the hint.

'Propositioning Me'

She said between his remarks about his loneliness and a desire for a woman her age and his intrusive questions about her personal life, "It was very clear to me that he, over the course of these conversations, was propositioning me for sex."

In a reference to what others have described as a toxic work culture in which the Governor's closest aides aligned against whoever displeased him while encouraging him to indulge his anger, Ms. Bennett said of those private meetings, "I was scared and I was uncomfortable, but I also was acutely aware that I did not want to get him mad...I've seen his temper. I've heard it."

Shortly after the transcripts of his testimony and those of the witnesses against him were released by the Attorney General's Office, the former Governor had further reason not to be cheerful. A press release from Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine announced that on Nov. 18 and 19, members of the committee would meet in Albany to review a report on Mr. Cuomo's conduct prepared by the law firm Davis Polk and Wardwell, LLP.

While it, too, had looked at the sexual-harassment allegations, it covered other topics that could pose greater legal jeopardy for him, particularly concerning his administration's order in March last year to return elderly hospital patients with the coronavirus who had been stabilized to return to the nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities where they had been living. There have also been reports of alleged manipulation of a state Health Department report that July to downgrade by more than 3,000 the death toll among those adult-care residents, at a time when Mr. Cuomo was negotiating a $5.1-million advance for a book he was writing about his handling of the crisis.

When Mario Cuomo's brief loss of equilibrium during that 1977 mayoral campaign helped swing the election in Mr. Koch's favor, the damage done to him was just temporary. Five years later, with his 24-year-old son managing his campaign, he defeated Mr. Koch in the Democratic primary for Governor and went on to serve three terms in that position.

His son doesn't figure to be able to salvage a political career undone by his own, more-enduring weaknesses.  


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