Governor Andrew Cuomo Sexually Harassed Multiple Women, New York Investigation Finds : The NPR Politics Podcast An investigation found that Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women in and out of state government and worked to retaliate against one of his accusers, New York's attorney general announced Tuesday. The findings quickly renewed calls for the Democrat's resignation or impeachment. Cuomo smacked down the allegations, citing generational differences, and calling the investigation politically motivated.

This episode: White house correspondent Asma Khalid, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo Sexually Harassed Multiple Women, New York Investigation Finds

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CARRIE: Hey. This is Carrie (ph), and I'm currently riding on my outdoor bike inside on a trainer three months after having total hip reconstruction surgery, working towards running and swimming and biking outside again. This is the NPR POLITICS PODCAST, and it was recorded at...

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

1:24 p.m. on Tuesday, August 3.

CARRIE: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but I'll still be super happy that I got my heart rate up today. Here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

KHALID: (Laughter).

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: You know, I just am inspired because I've dealt with a couple injuries lately, when you cross a certain age, that take a little bit longer to recover from. So you know what? She makes me want to get back out there.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: That's a serious surgery. And she is back at it.

KHALID: I cannot imagine.

MONTANARO: Absolutely.

KHALID: Well, hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I also cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KHALID: Big news out of New York today. The Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, sexually harassed multiple current and former state government employees. That's according to findings of an investigation by the state attorney general, Letitia James.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LETITIA JAMES: These interviews and pieces of evidence reveal a deeply disturbing yet clear picture. Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of both federal and state laws.

KHALID: Her office put out this 165-page report that comes after months and months of investigations by outside attorneys. Domenico, why don't you start by just telling us what exactly they found.

MONTANARO: Well, they say that in their report specifically, we find that the governor sexually harassed a number of current and former New York state employees by, among other things, engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching as well as making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women. So that's really the nut of what was going on here that Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, investigated, came to this conclusion. They had - you know, spoke to multiple women, 11 women in this case. They corroborated a lot of their stories, they say.

There were two additional women who've come forward than had been publicly known previously, including a state trooper on his detail, who he brought in, by the way, outside of the requirements. She was supposed to have had three years to be able to - of service, to be able to go serve in his detail. But he met her at a different event, and she only had two years but made an exception for her to bring her in. Then there was an executive assistant who said that, you know, he would take selfies with her, touch her inappropriately below her waist and then, at another time, went up her shirt and touched her breast.

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, this report, by any interpretation, is a devastating, detailed report about a politician accused of really unsavory things.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And this is part of the pattern with Cuomo, who is somebody who, you know, has had a long history in New York state, someone with a powerful last name, given powerful political ties - he's really had this aura of invincibility about him. He's running, he says, for re-election next year for a fourth term, which is really not something most New York governors do or are able to do. Usually, that kind of sheen kind of comes off. And he is someone who, even after this, is digging his heels even further in, denying the worst of the allegations and essentially explaining away the rest, talking directly to New York voters.

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ANDREW CUOMO: 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.

KHALID: You know, in prepared remarks - it seemed like it was already planned out what he was going to say because there was kind of PowerPoint photo montages of different things as he was speaking. But, you know, he really did not admit wrongdoing. He essentially tried to explain that they were misunderstandings in terms of what happened. At one point, he says that he's an affectionate person, essentially; that he kisses people, hugs people, but he does this with everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CUOMO: I do kiss people on the forehead. I do kiss people on the cheek. I do kiss people on the hand. I do embrace people. I do hug people - men and women. I do, on occasion, say ciao, bella. On occasion, I do slip and say sweetheart or darling or honey.

KEITH: At another point, he said - well, you know, he denies these charges. And at least one of the charges was anonymous. And he says, you know, let there be a jury trial then. Let's take this to a jury. Is there any chance of that happening or is he setting a bar that will not be met?

MONTANARO: Right. Well, you know, first he said, remember, let's wait for the investigation. The attorney general is conducting an investigation, and let's see what she finds. So a little bit of this is, you know, kicking the ball down the road, hoping to buy time. You know, whether there is going to be a jury trial at any point, whether there's going to be civil charges, we don't know that. But this is an attempt by him as governor to delay.

And, you know, the more you can delay and muddy the waters and make people think that maybe there isn't much to this, the further you get away from a crisis. Everyone knows in politics, the further you get away from a crisis, the more likelihood you have of survival. We've seen that with any number of crises over, you know, the last couple of decades, whether it was the Sandy Hook gun shooting and the NRA being able to say, hey, let's just take a pause here, we don't need extra regulations or whether it was Ralph Northam in Virginia, you know, surviving his scandal where he was seen to have worn blackface. This - any time you get farther away, that's crisis management 101.

KEITH: Domenico, to your point, I think it's even more than that. I think that in the early stages of the #MeToo movement, there were people who were shamed into resigning. And then at some point, it was like a switch flipped, and people accused of very serious things were like, let's just let this roll. Politicians choosing, rather than resigning, just - let's just see what happens if you are willing to stick it out. I'm thinking of someone like Matt Gaetz, the congressman accused, though not criminally, of some pretty serious things. There are any number of examples in politics of people who are like, yep, I'm just going to take this incoming and have no shame and move on with my life. And they've found that they are in politics, and the people who were shamed into resigning are not.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, I was just going to say that, you know, the roadmap for this was really paved by former President Trump. And I think a lot of people thought maybe he's a one off, he's, you know, got a specific, deeply devoted base. It wouldn't really work necessarily in other kinds of states like New York, for example. And we're seeing a test case here where a powerful Democratic governor is trying the same thing.

KHALID: All right. Well, let's take a quick break. And we'll have lots more to talk about this when we get back.

And we're back. When these allegations first popped up, we heard from a number of high-profile Democrats who were calling for Governor Cuomo's resignation. I mean, I recall that back in March, actually, President Biden remarked on all of this in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ABC NEWS")

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you've said you want the investigation to continue. If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes. I think he'd probably end up being prosecuted, too.

KEITH: Well, that's as clear as day.

MONTANARO: Right (laughter)?

KEITH: We don't yet have a reaction from President Biden, though there will be a couple of opportunities for reporters to try to ask him today. But that was a very clear statement back then. We will see what he says now. But Biden is not the only Democrat weighing in here. There are a number of high-profile New York Democrats who had not previously called for him to resign who are now calling for him to resign, including Representatives Gregory Meeks and Jeffries.

MONTANARO: I think we definitely wait to hear what President Biden has to say because, you know, he took a very clear line. In addition to saying that that day, he said that a woman should be presumed telling the truth and should not be scapegoated and become victimized by her coming forward. He said it takes a lot of courage to come forward, so the presumption is they should be taken seriously. It should be investigated. And that's what's underway now. Well, now we have the report.

KHALID: So, you know, earlier Domenico, you were describing the governor as being invincible. So with the fact that other, you know, members of the New York delegation are coming forward now and calling for his resignation, do you think that changes anything for him?

MONTANARO: I think he still thinks he's more powerful than they are. He's the governor, you know? And when you're the governor of a state, especially one like New York, you know, it's kind of the, you know, antithesis but parallel to some place like Texas. You know, there's a very unique sort of nationalistic quality to New York and New Yorkers. And he was playing to their, you know, innate sense of not being fooled, that they're not going to be played. And, you know, when you can sort of play to that ego, you know, he feels like he's got a chance to survive here. And that's a lot of what you could hear him trying to do - you know, a straight face and eye on the horizon saying, come get me.

KHALID: So what about the other part of what the president was saying back in March? The fact that Cuomo would, quote, "probably end up being prosecuted?"

MONTANARO: Whether or not he's actually going to be prosecuted is up in the air, right? You know, do we see other bodies take action against him that will land in court? We know that the state attorney general, who would be the kind of person you would think would go after him and go to court with this kind of prosecutable material, has said her case is closed, that she's not moving on. So I think a lot of other questions are going to be asked of the people who are prosecutors in the jurisdictions where these alleged incidents took place, whether they're going to, you know, potentially bring charges against Cuomo, someone like the Albany district attorney, for example, the capital of the state of New York. And where we go from there - in addition to that, right now, it looks like we're barreling toward Cuomo deciding that he's going to run for re-election, and voters ultimately will have a say in whether or not he will remain Governor Andrew Cuomo or if he will be cast aside in disgrace.

KEITH: I will say that sometimes in politics, people are hanging on and defiant right up until the moment that they are not.

MONTANARO: Exactly. I was wondering if today was going to be one of those moments, and it wasn't (laughter).

KHALID: It didn't look like it.

KEITH: Yeah. And I don't want to get into the head of Governor Cuomo, but there is this sort of remarkable transformation of Andrew Cuomo in the eyes of many observers. A little more than a year ago, he was America's governor, doing his daily wonky COVID PowerPoint presentations carried live on every cable network, detailing everything that was going on with the pandemic. He had this big book deal that he got. But then, there have been erosions of that image, including questions about whether they were hiding deaths of people who got COVID in nursing homes and whether his policies related to returning people to nursing homes led to more people getting sick. And then there's this, which has been a slow build, but today is very intense. Not that long ago, people were talking about him running for president. And now the question is, will he be able to hang on and run for re-election as governor?

KHALID: All right. Well, I guess that tells us just how ephemeral and temporary popularity in politics can be. All right. I am Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I also cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent

KHALID: And thank you all, as always, for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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