Cuomo vs. Everyone

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S1: Can you describe the New York political press corps today, like if you had one word to do it? Frenzied Brigid Bergin is a senior reporter at WNYC in New York,

S2: it’s one of those days where you’ll see a lot of people recirculating that classic onion story. It only Tuesday because it’s been a really it’s been a really busy day.

S1: Brigid busy day started with a press conference.

S2: We were told that New York State Attorney General Letitia James was planning to hold a press conference around 10, 30.

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S1: Did you know it was going to be about

S2: it was for a major announcement, but she did not specify what

S1: good morning. This presser turned out to be about the governor, Andrew Cuomo. He’s been under investigation for sexual harassment allegations for months. Attorney General James, she was plain when she laid out the findings of her 168 page report.

S3: The independent investigation has concluded that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and in doing so, violated federal and state law.

S1: And then she and her staff went beyond a simple top line summary.

S4: Our investigation revealed that these were not isolated incidents. They were part of a pattern.

S2: I think what was so surprising about it was the level of detail that they revealed even in the press conference.

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S1: It’s one thing to have an intellectual understanding of the allegations against the governor. It’s another to listen as one investigator and then another lay out the specific stories of nearly a dozen women where they were touched, what nicknames Cuomo gave them.

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S2: I spoke with an employment attorney who investigates and prosecutes cases of sexual harassment. And she was she told me she was stunned. That was her words about how specific the details are in this report. They described each of these interactions from members of his office, executive assistants who worked with him to a state trooper who was assigned to his detail.

S5: He asked the trooper how old she was when she responded. She was in her late 20s. He said that’s too old for him. He then asked her how much of an age difference he thought he could have between him and a girlfriend and have the public still accept it. She suggested it might be a good idea to stick with women at least as old as your daughters. She didn’t try to deflect the conversation by asking the governor what he was looking for in a girlfriend. He responded that he was looking for somebody who could handle pain.

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S2: She is supposed to be protecting him, you know, she’s part of his security detail,

S1: she was armed. She talked about him running his hand towards her firearm.

S2: Exactly.

S1: But something else was clear in this press conference, which is that the attorney general’s investigation is limited in some ways, like reporters kept asking her, what’s your next move? You know, obviously she’s a prosecutor and she was just like the report speaks for itself because she won’t be able to prosecute anything here, even though she found real harm was done and and concludes that firmly. Right.

S2: I think while this may be the end of Attorney General James’s investigation portion of this, we are very far from the end of this story.

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S1: Today on the show, the investigation into Andrew Cuomo has come to an end, but his political fight may be just getting started. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. One bit of transparency before we get too deep into this story, my husband works for New York’s attorney general. He was not involved in this week’s investigation, though most of the work was done by outside counsel who meticulously gathered the stories of 11 women, many of them state employees, who all had these uncomfortable experiences with the governor. Some of these women had come forward months ago. Women like Charlotte Bennett, an aide who said Cuomo asked her how she felt about monogamy and nicknamed her Daisy Duke. Without Charlotte Bennett, this investigation might not have gotten started in the first place. Other women like that state trooper we mentioned earlier, she went on the record for the first time just this week, and she’s still anonymous now. All of these stories, they’re backed up with an appendix full of text messages and email exchanges,

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S2: the effort to make clear to the public everything that they have found in their investigation is something that I think from the beginning they had committed to doing. It’s not something I think we always see. But certainly, as you describe this report, you know, is beyond thorough. And what was also interesting is to hear how the governor responded to it, which is to say his lawyer issued their own report where they tried to respond to some of the complaints that had been made public and that they anticipated, I think, in this particular document. And that was a strange strategy.

S1: It’s interesting to look at what Cuomo released and what the attorney general released side by side, because I think it reveals how much the governor was caught by surprise by the depth of the investigation and also like the mismatch of of what the intent of each of these people is like. So if you look at Attorney General James, his report, there’s a ton of details. And there everything from, you know, relaying conversations where the governor is talking to employees about his hand size in ways that make people uncomfortable, asking his employees to memorize song lyrics and sing them back to him. And so all of these details are there and that detail is not addressed in what the governor responds to. His his response is much more general. It’s basically there’s a lot of different excuses in there. But one of them is just the main one is I’m just kind of a Hanzi guy in comparison to other politicians who also give hugs.

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S2: Is that are you saying that because of the seven pages of photographs of him embracing other lawmakers? Mary?

S1: Yes, I mean, just picture after picture of him embracing his mother. You know, President Obama embracing a hurricane victim with the implied the implication that this is what politicians do. There’s even a paragraph in there in this response from the governor where he brings in Chuck Schumer and says, you know, he also runs his office like a family. And that’s what I’m trying to do with these interactions with my employees, which I don’t know how Chuck Schumer feels about that. He’s already called on him to resign.

S2: Yes. Well, and he reiterated that call today. You know, one of the things that was clear even back in March when initially some of these allegations were coming out, you know, both Senators Schumer and Gillibrand said at that point that they thought he should resign, along with several members of the congressional delegation, several state lawmakers. And the argument, the pushback that you would hear was related to due process. That was the talking point that a lot of lawmakers who were supporting the governor were using,

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S1: like let the investigation play out.

S2: Exactly that. He was entitled to hear what the charges were against him and to be able to respond. And it was among the interesting reactions today, some of the individuals who were more, I would say, generous or supportive earlier this year started to take much more aggressive stands.

S1: One reason some politicians may be reconsidering having Cuomo back is because this new report lays out so much more than just a he said. She said some of these allegations are corroborated. Many stories seem to show an abuse of power. The case of the state trooper is a good example. The attorney general’s report documents how this young woman was hired for her job after being spotted at an event by the governor. The qualifications for her position were even altered so she could transfer to the Capitol, despite the fact that she hadn’t served the standard number of years for a gubernatorial detail. And once she got to her job, the harassment started

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S5: in an elevator. While standing behind the trooper, he ran his finger from her neck down her spine and said, Hey, you. Another time she was standing, holding the door open for the governor. As he passed, he took his open hand and ran it across her stomach from her belly button to the hip where she keeps her gun. She told us that she felt completely violated to have the governor touch her, as she put it, between her chest and her privates.

S1: Even staffers who weren’t being sexually harassed thought their workplace was toxic and shared notes and texts that revealed that they believed the governor’s accusers, part of the governor’s defense is, you know, I didn’t intend to treat people in a certain way. They’re seeing it in a way that I didn’t intend, which. OK, but then when you have all this documentation from other people in the workplace, not the accusers basically saying we see this, too, it kind of means that that defense isn’t valid anymore. It doesn’t matter how you intended it if actually your entire office perceives it a different way, because that’s not how the message is getting across.

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S2: Exactly. I mean, and that gets into what defines the standard of sexual harassment. Is it intent or is it how it is experienced by others? And one of the things that is striking, you know, as is laid out in this report in a lot of detail, is, you know, it isn’t just about the trooper. It isn’t just about Charlotte Bennett or any of the individuals who are named because they you know, their stories have been made public. It’s the pattern. And that’s what makes it so significant. And in the words of, you know, the employment lawyer that I spoke with, stunning because it is not a one off incident or a single individual that we’re talking about. It’s multiple individuals over, you know, overlapping period of time. And it suggests a culture. It suggests a way of being and a way of governing, frankly.

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S1: When the attorney general made her announcement within hours, there was an announcement, you know, Governor Cuomo is going to say something, too. I wonder if you can talk about the presentation of what happened next, because it struck me that he did speak, but it wasn’t live and there were no questions.

S2: Yes. So, too, to think about his comments today, I think it’s worth reflecting on his initial comments about some of the earlier allegations this spring. There was one press conference where he apologized.

S6: I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,

S2: said he never meant to hurt anyone.

S6: It was unintentional. And I truly and deeply apologize for it,

S2: but also said that he had never touched anyone inappropriately.

S6: I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never touched anyone inappropriately.

S2: And that moment is described also in this report as is triggering for some women who had experienced inappropriate contact with him. The response he gave today, which was announced shortly after the press conference with Attorney General James wrapped up, was a taped message. It was played through the governor’s website.

S6: I didn’t want anyone to say that I interfered. I said I would hold my tongue and I have making only limited comments. It has been a hard and a painful period for me and my family, especially as others feed ugly stories to the press. But I cooperated with the review and I can now finally share the truth.

S2: And he, you know, essentially said, I have waited my turn, I have said that, you know, I authorized this investigation. I said I wouldn’t comment it until the investigation had concluded. Now that that’s happened, the facts as they’re presented are not not accurate.

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S6: I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances. I am 63 years old. I have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am and that’s not who I have ever been.

S1: He basically said it was biased.

S2: He said it was biased. And he called out Charlotte Bennett, who was a young woman who had worked in his office, who had divulged that she was a sexual assault survivor. And then part of the complaint and some of the previous reporting that has been done about her experience talks about the really kind of creepy conversations that then ensued between the governor and her related to her relationships and her sex life and things that you, you know, would not imagine your supervisor, let alone the governor of New York state, talking to you about. And he made an explicit apology to her, but also characterized her interpretation and her lawyer’s interpretation of things that he said as inaccurate and then revealed that part of the reason he had engaged with her the way he had was because he had a family member who he did not name, who also experienced a sexual assault while in high school, and that he had gone the family had gone through counseling. And so he was bringing that experience to the workplace, which in retrospect, he said was wrong. But again, framing it, as you know, here is someone well intentioned. He did not intend to offend, but not necessarily understanding how some of his comments and behaviors could have rightfully been interpreted. And then he also went on to deny some of the allegations of inappropriate touching and went so far as to, you know, suggest that he looked forward to having his day in court so he could deny it.

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S1: We’ll be right back. So what happens now, like it seems pretty clear from watching the governor’s response today that he doesn’t plan to resign and he’s been embattled politically for months and it hasn’t seemed to have made a difference. He’s hung in there. So are there any signs that his fortunes could be changing?

S2: Well, I think when the president of the United States, who is seen as an ally, says that you should resign, are you now calling on him to resign? Yes, that that is the sign of changing fortunes for sure. He is losing a lot of support among his most high profile allies. And now we’re shifting into what could be a drawn out or could be a very swift impeachment trial by the New York State Assembly. And I think there are a lot of questions about exactly how that would play out. I did some reporting on it earlier this year. And based on that, it seemed to me that if the assembly were to impeach that Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would become the acting governor during the course of the trial.

S1: And she’s elected totally separate from Cuomo. So they’re kind of separate politicians,

S2: sort of, but not really. I mean, yes, they are elected separately, but they run run as a ticket. And so she has been, I would say, pretty supportive of Cuomo until recently. And the statement that she issued today was tough. You know, she didn’t go so far as to say he should resign, but she said no one is above the law. Under the new constitution, the assembly will now determine the next steps because lieutenant governors stand next in line of succession. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the process at this moment. But she called sexual harassment unacceptable in the workplace and certainly not in public service.

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S1: A lot of reporters have been pointing to the speaker of the Assembly, Carl Hastey, basically saying pay attention to him, because if he makes moves, then you know how this is going to go down. Why is that?

S2: Well, you know, under the Constitution, it is the assembly that would have to act to determine the next steps to approve articles of impeachment. And the speaker of the Assembly, Carl Hastey, is a strong and influential figure in his chamber. There have been members of the assembly who have been very outspoken since earlier this year saying that they needed to act, that they should be impeaching now. And he has pushed back. They they took sort of an interim step by asking the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee to do an investigation, hired, you know, what you law firm to do this work.

S1: So it’s kind of a slow walk.

S2: Very much so. But this report could, you know, hit that gas pedal a little bit and speed things up. So I think it is fair to say if the assembly comes out and says that, you know, they are reconvening, they’re going to approve articles of impeachment, that that’s a very serious step. I’m curious to see how quickly anything moves. Yeah.

S1: If Cuomo does leave office in some way. What happens then, like you mentioned, local prosecutions are possible that Albany has already said he’s open to, you know, hearing from people who want to come to him, and then there’s the question of how does the gubernatorial election work? Who’s who’s running the state?

S2: So Kathy Hochul would become the acting governor should Andrew Cuomo resign or be forced out of office. If that is the case, we move obviously very quickly into an election cycle. And should she run for election to the post, she would very likely face a challenger. Kathy Hochul is from upstate New York, originally from the Buffalo area. It is very difficult in New York state to get elected to a statewide office if you are not from where you’re going to turn out the most voters, which is a downstate. And so someone from New York City, Westchester, Long Island, would likely challenge her. And the whole kind of throwing up of the chessboard that would happen then would be fascinating. You know, there would be a real kind of domino effect should Cuomo leave office or be removed. That would create a lot of openings and a lot of very ambitious and potentially pacien people who’ve been waiting a long time for, you know, that moment might jump at the opportunity to pursue another office.

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S1: If you had to guess, do you think we’re going to see Andrew Cuomo this week have any kind of appearance that isn’t recorded, that is with reporters where we understand what happens next?

S2: I think that was a key point. Mary with reporters. Highly unlikely. They don’t think that we are going to see him comment in a way that is not controlled on the findings of this report until he has figured out a strategy for dealing with it.

S1: That’s different from the strategy that he’s been pursuing for the past few months.

S2: Well, in or could be the same as the strategy, because that had worked up to this point, which is to see if he can let some time pass and, you know, the news cycle change and, you know, go back to doing the work that he does and hope that it doesn’t go any further than it has. I find it hard to believe that the state and state lawmakers will do nothing and that that there won’t be additional lawsuits that he could face, whether they are criminal or civil in nature. I should note that the Assembly speaker has just moments ago issued some comments, and I think it is suggests that there will be action in the New York State Assembly from Speaker Carl Hastey from my colleague. He says, It is abundantly, abundantly clear to me that the governor has lost the confidence of the assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office. We will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible Wolf.

S1: It’s pretty straightforward. Yeah. Does he give a timeline?

S2: Not quite yet.

S1: Stay tuned. It’ll be interesting to see how long they let it wait, because the longer they wait, the more people’s resolve weakens.

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S2: Mm hmm. Yeah, I think we’re going to have to see because it feels like it it’s not over yet. It will take acts of what some would perceive as political courage to keep moving it forward. And if lawmakers have not acted up until this point, there have been questions about why. And, you know, we may soon find out.

S1: Brigid, thank you so much for joining me.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: Brigid Bergin is a senior reporter for WNYC, and that’s the show in case you missed it. Back in May, I actually interviewed one of the women who’s come forward to accuse Governor Cuomo of harassment. That conversation is definitely worth revisiting this week. The fastest way to track it down is to go to my Twitter. That’s at Mary desk. I’ve linked to it there. What Next is produced by Davis, Landolina, Schwartz, Danielle Hewitt, Mary Wilson and Carmel Delshad. We are led by Allison Benedict and Alicia Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. I’ll be back in this feed tomorrow.