New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s legal difficulties mounted on Wednesday even as he continued to defy calls to resign following the damning findings of a report into sexual harassment allegations.
District attorneys in New York City and Westchester County opened criminal investigations into Mr Cuomo’s behaviour towards staff members. It followed the announcement of a similar investigation by Albany’s district attorney office the previous day.
A report commissioned by New York attorney general Letitia James published on Tuesday determined that Mr Cuomo had broken state and federal law by harassing current and former New York state employees.
The report, which centred on his behaviour towards 11 women, found that he had engaged in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching, and made “numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature” that created a hostile work environment for women.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: political future now lies in the hands of the New York state assembly. Photograph: Office of the New York Governor via The New York Times
The Democratic governor has vehemently denied the charges and has so far refused to resign, despite calls for him to do so from the highest level of his party, including President Joe Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Both Mr Biden and Ms Pelosi are politically close to the governor, whose father Mario was a senior figure in the party for decades.
Mr Cuomo’s political future now lies in the hands of the New York state assembly. The bicameral body had already begun a preliminary impeachment inquiry in March into both the allegations of sexual harassment and Mr Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Until now, however, the lower house did not have enough support to begin impeachment proceedings.
But in a sign of the growing political danger for Mr Cuomo, the speaker of the state assembly, Carl Heastie, said that Mr Cuomo can no longer remain in office.
“After our conference this afternoon to discuss the attorney general’s report concerning sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo, it is 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,” he said on Tuesday evening.
“Once we receive all relevant documents and evidence from the attorney general, we will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible.”
Until this week, Mr Heastie had refrained from calling on Mr Cuomo to resign, but the publication of the report prompted a new response from the de facto leader of the lower house. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the majority leader of the New York senate, which would adjudicate Mr Cuomo’s trial if the assembly votes to impeach him, has long called on Mr Cuomo to go.
It is rare for governors to resign, and the last New York governor to be impeached was William Sulzer mpore than a century ago.
CNN presenter Chris Cuomo, the younger brother of the governor who is named several times in the report as one of the accused’s informal advisers after the allegations first surfaced, did not mention the controversy during his evening news show on Tuesday night. Instead he focused on the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’re focused on Covid here, especially until we get the Delta variant under control,” he said as he opened his 9pm programme.
The 165-page report published on Tuesday described how Mr Cuomo presided over a “toxic” work environment. It details harassment of 11 former and current female workers, including a state trooper who was assigned to work with him as part of his security detail.
The report also found that Mr Cuomo and his office retaliated against one of the accusers, Lindsey Boylan, leaking her confidential personnel files to news organisations.