Investigators interviewed CNN host and Southampton resident Chris Cuomo about his advising his brother Gov. Andrew Cuomo on how to handle publicity surrounding allegations that the governor sexually harassed female staffers.
The broadcaster was among 179 people interviewed by independent investigators hired to conduct the five-month probe for New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ office. The inquiry culminated in a bombshell surprise 168-page report that detailed Chris Cuomo’s questioning in the probe, as well as new revelations from accusers when it was released on August 3.
“According to internal documents and communications obtained during the investigation, it appears that the governor’s advisors, including … Chris Cuomo, counseled him to express contrition after the press published [Cuomo aide Charlotte] Bennett’s allegations,” the report stated. The report later added: “During his testimony, Chris Cuomo explained that there was discussion about remedial measures the [administration] should take in light of the sexual harassment allegations, but some people had taken the position that ‘they should just wait.’”
Bennett, a former executive assistant to the governor, is among 11 women whose allegations against the three-term Democratic governor are detailed in the report, which outlines accusations of groping, kissing and other workplace misconduct. She was the second aide to go public with claims against the governor—in her case, his asking about her prior sexual assault, telling the 25-year-old woman that the 63-year-old divorced father of three adult daughters would like to date a woman her age and asking if she dates older men. Shortly after she told her story to the media this spring, the governor released a public apology stating that he never meant to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
“What this investigation revealed was a disturbing pattern of conduct by the governor of the great state of New York,” James, a Democrat, told reporters during a news conference. “These 11 women were in a hostile and toxic work environment.”
Chris Cuomo had conducted a series of television interviews—which some critics called gentle or even comical—on CNN with his older brother during the coronavirus pandemic before the harassment allegations surfaced. But after sexual misconduct and other scandals enveloped the governor, prompting a series of investigations and an impeachment inquiry in the state Assembly, the network said its conflict-of-interest policy meant that Chris Cuomo could not report on the governor. The anchor has remained silent on the allegations and a representative did not respond to a request for comment on his interview with investigators.
As Dan’s Papers has reported, investigators are also looking into the governor’s office for alleged fast-tracking of COVID-19 tests for Chris Cuomo, other family members and a relative of New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore at her home in Southampton. The state Assembly’s judiciary committee has been investigating the administration’s alleged prioritization of virus tests for friends, family and others in the early days of the pandemic when tests were not widely available, which raises the question of whether he or his staff violated state laws against public officials granting such favoritism. The committee is examining the testing issue as part of a wide-ranging impeachment inquiry into accusations including the harassment claims, whether his recent $5 million book deal improperly used state resources, and other allegations.
If true, the allegation that the governor fast-tracked virus tests for friends, family and others raises the question of whether he or his staff violated state laws against public officials granting such favoritism. CNN had issued a statement downplaying the allegations, saying it was “not surprising” the broadcaster sought the governor’s help before the Cuomo Prime Time host was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Chris Cuomo’s interview with investigators in the harassment probe was one of at least two Long Island ties detailed in the August 3 report. It stated that in 2019 on LI, an unidentified state police trooper dubbed “Trooper #1” claimed the governor “ran the palm of his left hand across her stomach in the direction opposite the direction that he was walking. The center of the governor’s hand was on Trooper #1’s belly button, and he pushed his hand back to her right hip where she kept her gun.”
Trooper #1 told investigators that she felt “completely violated because to me, like, that’s between my chest and my privates,” according to the report. She added that she and a senior investigator who witnessed the incident were “both still in shock about what happened,” according to the report, and “thought it was disgusting. We were creeped out.”
Investigators also interviewed the governor himself as a part of the probe. The report rejected Cuomo’s suggestions that his conduct was an innocent reflection of an affectionate Italian-American culture in which he was raised. Investigators found little credibility in his “blanket denials and lack of recollection as to specific incidents.”
“What these witnesses—and many others—described is not just old-fashioned, affectionate behavior,” the report concluded. “It was sexual harassment.”
Rita Glavin, a lawyer defending Cuomo against the sexual harassment complaints, released a lengthy “position statement” responding to the report, which she said “purposefully omits key evidence.” Glavin accused James of bias. Although the governor said the statement would refute each allegation, it didn’t make mention of Trooper #1.
Following the release of the sexual harassment report, Democratic and Republican lawmakers including President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is running for governor next year, were among those who called for Cuomo to resign.
“The harrowing details depicted in the report confirm that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees and created a hostile work environment,” said state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor). “In his response to the report, the governor has made evident that he has no intentions of resigning. Therefore, the Assembly must move with all deliberate speed to begin impeachment proceedings.”
In a video statement, Cuomo made clear he has no plans to resign as he denied James’s findings, saying, “I never touched anyone inappropriately.”