Ten years after he became the 56th governor of New York, following in the footsteps of his late father, Mario, who led the state for three terms, Andrew Cuomo’s political career was in jeopardy on Tuesday night.
A report commissioned by New York’s attorney general found that the 63-year-old governor sexually harassed 11 women who worked with him. The two investigators, respected attorney Anne Clark and former US attorney Joon Kim, interviewed 179 people and trawled through tens of thousands of documents during an inquiry that lasted almost five months.
The publication of the long-awaited report comes barely a year after the New York governor was being feted for his response to the Covid crisis.
During the height of New York’s Covid pandemic last spring and summer, the governor’s daily briefings became must-see TV. Mr Cuomo was seen by many as the antidote to Donald Trump, a Democratic politician who took the threat of Covid seriously and helped rally his state, while the US president fumbled through the crisis, mired in denialism. Mr Cuomo wrote a book about his experience, and won an Emmy award for his televised press conferences “in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of TV to inform and calm people around the world”.
But by early 2021 Mr Cuomo, whose younger brother is CNN presenter Chris Cuomo, was facing a string of crises. His office was accused of a cover-up of data related to nursing homes deaths, and allowing Covid-infected people to leave hospital and enter nursing homes leading to a surge in outbreaks. Attorney general Letitia James released a damning report into his handling of the issue.
Then, several women came forward and accused the governor of making unwanted sexual advances. Mr Cuomo protested his innocence, calling a press conference in March to announce he would not resign, after a sixth woman came forward. At the time, several senior Democrats, including New York’s senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, called for him to resign, but Mr Cuomo remained in situ.
All the while, the attorney general’s investigation was under way. It was reported just this weekend that Mr Cuomo was questioned for 11 hours on July 17th by Ms Clark and Mr Kim under oath about the allegations against him. But there was no sign that the inquiry was reaching its end. Then on Tuesday the office of the attorney general emailed journalists to say that Ms James would be making a “major announcement”.
The bombshell findings, disclosed by Ms James at the press conference on Tuesday, immediately prompted renewed calls for the governor to resign from senior members of his own party.
The governor himself issued a rebuttal, including a short pre-recorded video of him protesting his innocence and an 85-page report. This included photographs of himself and other people hugging and touching, in order to illustrate his argument that he is a naturally tactile person, as well as photos of president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris embracing.
While the attorney general’s report was damning, she stopped short of recommending criminal charges. However, the district attorney office in Albany confirmed it is undertaking a criminal investigation into Mr Cuomo, and plans to request materials from the attorney general.
Whatever his legal exposure, Mr Cuomo’s political future now lies in the hands of New York’s state assembly, where his party is in the majority.
The judiciary committee already opened a preliminary inquiry into Mr Cuomo’s behaviour in March, but was said to be waiting the result of the attorney general’s findings before moving forward with any move to impeach him. As with the federal level, the impeachment process begins in the lower house, and if impeached, the governor would then face a trial in the Senate with a two-thirds majority needed to remove him.
Democrats control 105 of the 150 seats in the lower body, and it was unclear on Tuesday night if enough members of his own party were preparing to split with the governor. Even if they did so, the process would take some time, likely stretching into next year.
Mr Cuomo has hinted that he would like to run for a fourth term in next year’s state elections. But whatever the immediate fallout from the attorney general’s report, the prospect looks increasingly remote.