Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Seventy Percent of U.S. Adults Now Have At Least One Vaccine Dose; NY AG Finds Governor Cuomo Sexually Harassed Multiple Women. Aired 11-11:30a ET.

Aired August 03, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

A tipping point. Hospitalizations hit a critical number that we haven't seen since February. But the number of shots in arms is rising too, giving some reason for new hope. President Biden is set to speak today.

A police department left grieving. A fourth police officer who responded to the January 6 insurrection dies by suicide.

And courage in Tokyo. Simone Biles returns to compete in the Olympics, a finish she said means more than any gold medal she's ever won before.

Thanks for being here, everybody. We have a lot to get to this hour. But at this very moment, we're waiting for what is being described as a major announcement from New York Attorney General Letitia James. You see the live room.

The details on what they will announce very limited. We're going to bring the news to you when it begins. We're also keeping a close eye on the White House, where in a few hours, President Biden will be laying out where the country stands right now in the fight against COVID.

It comes at a critical moment, one mark by a dramatic surge in cases, a stubborn resistance to get a shot by some still but also a moment of new hope. The White House met the goal of 70 percent of eligible adults vaccinated with at least one dose, although it is a benchmark that they met one month later than they hoped.

But where the now hope comes in is the number of people getting shots in arms is on the rise again. Particularly in states getting hit the hardest by the delta variant.

Here is how one nurse in Alabama put it this to CNN this morning.


VANESSA DAVIS, NURSE IN BIRMINGHAM, AL: There does seem to be this tipping point where they are finally a little more scared of the virus than they are the vaccine. And so they're seeking it out, like I said, they want to get back to some sort of normalcy but they're seeing family and friends who are getting sick and hospitalized and they're getting scared.


BOLDUAN: The delta variant is still surging across country, mostly among the unvaccinated. More than 90 percent of the population lives in a county where people should now be wearing masks indoors.

The country is averaging about 85,000 new cases per day, an increase of nearly 50 percent over the previous week. Just look at the chart. It tells the story. Five states make up nearly half of the new cases being reported. You see them there. Louisiana, Florida, Texas, California, and Missouri.

But let's start in New York City, actually, where the mayor just made a major announcement regarding vaccine requirements here.

CNN's Athena Jones is joining me with all of the details. So what did the mayor say?


Well, this is a big deal and the mayor, Mayor de Blasio hopes it will make a big difference. He introduced what is being called the key to New York pass. This is something a program that will launch softly starting August 16th, coming into full effect and enforced September 13th, the week after Labor Day.

It requires proof for vaccination for anyone who wants to dine indoors or work out in a gym or see a performance. As you could see there, launching in a couple of weeks and there will be an education campaign.

This is similar to what we've seen France roll out, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. We're also seeing it in Italy. This is something that we've heard the mayor stressing over and over again.

Look, he stopped short just yesterday of bringing back an indoor mask mandate. He said Friday that his focus is on vaccines, on getting more people vaccinated because that will make a difference. Here is more of what he had to say about the new health pass.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): This is a miraculous place literally full of wonders. And in your vaccinated, all of that is open up to. If you have the key, you can open the door. But if you're unvaccinated, unfortunately, you will not be able to participate. That is the point we're trying to get across. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And, of course, the mayor had several leaders from the business community and the politics who came on to show their support for this move. Some call it a defining moment.

Notably, you had a congressman from the Bronx and other state senator from a part of Queens, these are areas that have had lagging vaccination rates when compared to the whole city. A lot of folks said this will help the city stay open and be good for business and health and the overall economy -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Interesting. Athena, thank you so much for that report.

So, hospital staff in major hot spots are sounding the alarm as unvaccinated patients continue to fill up intensive care departments.


In Arkansas, the state reports the highest increase in COVID hospitalizations since the beginning of pandemic. And in Louisiana, which just reinstated an indoor mask requirement, one health official said that the state will likely hit today its highest number of hospitalized COVID patients at any point of the pandemic.

CNN'S Nadia Romero is live in New Orleans with this important side of the story.

Nadia, where -- what are you learning there?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we learned that a disaster medical assistant team arrived in Louisiana this week. When you think about a disaster team, you think it is after a hurricane or a big storm. But no, they're here to help out after COVID-19, specifically the delta variant has been ripping through Louisiana and much of the south.

And then the other part of that is the number of unvaccinated people. This part of the country lagging behind the rest of the nation when it comes to vaccination rates. Now we spoke with the largest hospital in the state over in baton rouge, not far from here. And they tell us they're starting to see a younger population. Cases are rising, hospitalizations in people under the age of 50 and children.

Now I asked them about the age and the oldest child is about 17 years old. The youngest is a 3-week-old baby. There are nine children hospitalized with COVID-19 and that one particular hospital, one of those kids is in the ICU.

So if you just think about what that must mean, not only for the kids but for the staff and their families dealing with COVID-19 on such young people. While the governor here in Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, he said we have all of that to contend with on top of the fact that we have a hospital staff shortage. Listen to him talk about the dire need they have for more people to come and help out in the hospitals here all across the state. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D-LA): What we don't have is enough staff. We're short nurses in Louisiana, period, for example. And right now, we have nurses that are out because they too have contracted COVID and other staff members out and maybe respiratory therapists and so forth and this is really causing a tremendous problem across our state.


ROMERO: So there is a bright spot here. We're seeing in eight states with the lowest vaccination rates, they are starting to pick up with more people getting vaccinated. Finally at this point during the pandemic -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Nadia, thank you for shining a light on this.

Joining me now is viral specialist, Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, joining me now for more on this.

Let's start in Louisiana where Nadia is doing the reporting. Hearing from doctors that they're out of beds, that they are just getting crushed and especially as Nadia was pointing out that there seems like there are so many children coming to the hospital. One doctor saying they're not accepting more children because they're out of pediatric beds, what does this tell you about this variant?

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, what it tells me is obviously, that this variant is very contagious. This variant and any virus is going to go where it can infect the host. The people that it is going to infect the most are those that are unvaccinated. That should be clear to everybody.

What does that mean? Adults that are unvaccinated and unfortunately, children, especially those under the age of 12 that can't get a vaccine are going to be the most susceptible to this virus. We've been saying that and now unfortunately that is becoming obvious and true.

BOLDUAN: And I have to call it the silver lining in this scary moment as you heard we played some sound of a nurse from the top of the show that said in Alabama that they're seeing somewhat of a tipping point the way she described it. That more people are getting shots, as they're hesitant, because they're becoming a little more scared of the virus than they are of the vaccine.

What do you think of that?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think, a., good, that is exactly how people's mindset should be. You know, one of the bad things about this pandemic, actually many bad things, but one of them is that people don't see how the people that get this suffer and how they die and because they die alone, they can't see it. But now --

BOLDUAN: Doctor, I'm going to have to cut in. I need to jump over right now.

The attorney general of New York, Letitia James, coming to the podium for what is being billed as a major announcement. Let's listen in.


I'm joined here today by Anne Clark and Joon Kim, the two lead attorneys designated as special deputies to the attorney general's office to announce the findings of their investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against Governor Andrew Cuomo.

I'll make a brief statement and then turn it over to Ms. Clark and Mr. Kim who will delve into the findings.

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


Specifically, the investigation found that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.

The investigators independently corroborated and substantiated these facts through interviews and evidence and including contemporaneous notes and communications. This evident will be made available to the public along with the report.

This investigation was started after a number of women publicly alleged that they had been sexually harassed by Governor Cuomo. And on March 1st of this year, the governor's office made a referral to my office pursuant to state executive law 638 regarding these allegations. Executive law section 638 permits the New York attorney general's office with the approval of the governor or when directed by the governor to inquire into matters concerning the public peace, the public safety, and the public justice.

This referral issued by the governor enabled my office to appoint independent outside investigators to look into these allegations. And on March 8th, 2021, Anne Clark and Joon Kim, they were officially deputized as special deputies.

Ms. Clark and Mr. Kim and their respective firms were chosen to lead the investigation because of the decades of work at the highest levels. They're deep expertise on matters in question and their careers fighting to uphold the rule of law. Anne Clark is a partner at Vladeck, Raskin & Clark, P.C., where she focuses on employment law issues on behalf of employees at trial and appellate levels.

And during a more than 30-year career, Ms. Clark has represented many in employment and sexual harassment and other discrimination cases in the private sector in education, and in government. She also has deep experience with retaliation, whistleblower, breach of contract and compensation in indemnificative (ph) cases.

Joon Kim is a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton, LLP. And for more than two decades, he's worked at the highest levels of government and in private practice. From March 2017 to January 201, he served as the acting United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. As the most senior federal law enforcement officer in the district, he over saw all criminal and civil litigation conducted on behalf of the United States.

Before becoming acting United States attorney, Mr. Kim served in various leadership positions in the office, including deputy United States attorney, chief of the criminal division, and chief council to the United States attorney.

Ms. Clark and Mr. Kim are experienced, credible, and deeply respected professionals. And together they ensure that this investigation was both independent and thorough.

Over the course of the five-month investigation, the investigators spoke to 179 individuals, including complainants, current and former members of the executive chamber, state troopers, additional state employees, and others who interacted regularly with the governor.

In addition, they reviewed more than 74,000 pieces of evidence including documents, emails, texts, audio files, and pictures. 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 federal and state laws.

The independent investigation found that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in one wanted groping, kisses, hugging, and by making inappropriate comments.


Further, the governor and his senior team took actions to retaliate against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story, her truth. And Governor Cuomo's administration fostered a toxic workplace, that enabled harassment and created a hostile work environment, where staffers did not feel comfortable coming forward with complaints about sexual harassment due to a climate of fear and given the power dynamics.

The investigators found that Governor Cuomo's actions in those of the executive chamber violated multiple state and federal laws. As well as the executive chamber's own written policies. This investigation has revealed conduct that corrodes the very fabric and character of our state government and shines light on injustice that could be present at the highest levels of government.

But none of this, none of this would have been illuminated if not for the heroic women who came forward. And I'm inspired by all of the brave women who came forward but more importantly I believe them. And I thank them for their bravery. And I thank the independent investigators for their professionalism, despite the attacks and for their dogged determination that brought us to the truth.

And now, we will hear from Joon Kim and Anne Clark who will walk us through the report and their findings.

JOON KIM, SDNY SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR: Thank you, Attorney General James.

Good morning.

My name is Joon Kim. And along with my colleague Anne Clark, we have led the team at our two -- we have led our teams at our two law firms in conducting the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Governor Cuomo. We have now completed our investigation and have made our findings and reached our conclusions. It is set forth in a detailed report issued today.

As set forth in the report, we find that the governor on numerous occasions, engaged in conduct that constitutes unlawful sex-based harassment. Specifically, we find that the governor sexually harassed a number of current and former New York state employees. He did so by among other things, engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching, and also repeatedly making comments of a sexualized or gender-based nature.

Our investigation revealed that these were not isolated incidents. They were part of a pattern. The governor's pattern of sexually harassing behavior was not limited to members of his own staff, but extended to other state employees, including a state trooper who served on his protective detail.

There are 11 complainants whose allegations are set forth in great detail in the report. Nine of them are or were employed by the state of New York or a state affiliated entity. The complainants interacted with the governor or different circumstances. For example, some of them met with him regularly as an executive assistant or as members of his staff or as I said as a trooper on his protective detail. While others only met him once. But all of them experienced harassing conduct from the governor.

Some suffered through unwanted touching and grabbing of their post intimate body parts. Others suffered through repeated offensive sexually suggestive or gender-based comments, a number of them endured both.


None of them welcomed it. And all of them found it disturbing, humiliating, uncomfortable and inappropriate. And now we find that it was unlawful sex-based harassment. Our investigation has also found that the executive chamber responded to allegations of sexual harassment in ways that violated their own internal policies. And also constituted unlawful retaliation with respect to one of the complainants.

And finally, based on our investigation, we concluded that the executive chamber's workplace culture, one rife with bullying, fear and intimidation on the one hand while normalizing frequent flirtations and gender-based comments by the governor on the other, created the conditions that allowed the sexual harassment and retaliation to occur and to persist. As the attorney general has said, we reach these finding and conclusions after a thorough and independent investigation. We were allowed to and did follow the facts without fear, without favor.

As you'll see in the report, our findings were supported by extensive evidence that includes interviews and testimony from 179 witnesses, and review of tens of thousands of documents.

I'll now turn it over to my colleague, Anne Clark, to walk through some of the specifics related to the sexual harassment, the policy violations and the retaliation.

ANNE CLARK, SDNY SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR: We find that the governor on many occasions engaged in sex-based harassing conduct and conversations. The most serious was the governor's unwelcome physical contact with women, including touching intimate body parts.

He engaged in this conduct with state employees including those who didn't work in the executive chamber as well as non-employees. One current employee who we identify as executive assistant number one entered repeated physical violations. On November 16th, 2020, in the executive mansion, the governor hugged executive assistant number one and reached under her blouse to grab her breast.

This was the culmination of a pattern of inappropriate sexual conduct, including numerous close and intimate hugs where the governor held her so closely that her breasts were pressed against her body and he sometimes ran his hands up and down her back while he did so. There were several occasions on which the governor grabbed her butt.

Executive assistant number one vowed she will take these violations, as she put, it to the grave. She was terrified if she spoke out she would lose her job. But she broke down in front of colleagues when she heard the governor on March 3rd, 2021, in his press conference claim that he had never touched anyone inappropriately.

She then confided in her co-workers who saw her breakdown as to what had a happened and they were the ones that reported the conduct to the attorneys in the executive chamber.

The governor also several times inappropriately touched a state trooper, assigned to the unit to protect the governor. 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, and as he passed, he took his open hand and ran it across her stomach from her belly button to where 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.

The governor also inappropriately touched women who were attending work-related events at which the governor made remarks. At one event in September 2019, while having his picture taken with an employee of a state entity, the governor grabbed this young woman's butt. At another event in May of 2017, the governor pressed and ran his

fingers across the chest of a woman while reading the name of her company whose logo was on her chest. The governor also engaged in a widespread pattern of subjecting women to unwanted hugs and kisses and conduct that is not just old-fashioned affectionate behavior as he and some of his staff would have it, but unlawful sex-based harassment.


In addition to the physical conduct, our investigation found that the governor regularly made comments to staff members and state employees that were offensive and gender-based. For example, the governor crossed the line many times when speaking with Charlotte Bennett, a briefer and executive assistant, particularly in spring of 2020.

When she confided in the governor that she had been sexually assaulted in college, he asked her for the details of her assault. When talking about potential girlfriends, he said he thought he would date women as young as 22, knowing that Ms. Bennett was 25 at the time.

He asked whether she had been with older men. He told her that he was lonely and wanted to be touched. He asked her if she was monogamous and what she thought about monogamy. And he speculated about her history as a sexual assault survivor might affect her romantic life.

He told her she looked like Daisy Duke. He suggested that she get a tattoo on her butt and asked her if she had any piercings anywhere other than her ears.

Ms. Bennett texted to a friend on the day when many of the comments were made that she was upset and confused and that she was shaking.

Another example is the governor's comments to the state trooper, the same trooper he touched on stomach and back. After the governor had become single, he asked the trooper how old she was. When she responded that she was in her late 20s, he said that is 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 then tried 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. Another time when the governor found out that the trooper was engaged, he asked her why she would want to get married because among other things, your sex drive goes down.

As detailed in the report, employees recounted a pattern of similarly offensive comments and conversations, such as the governor repeatedly asking executive assistant number one whether she would cheat on her husband, saying to her, if you were single, the things I would do to you, telling her that she looked great for her age which was early 30s and for a mother. Calling her and co-worker Alyssa McGrath mingle mommas. Comparing Lindsey Boylan to a more attractive version of one of his ex-girlfriends and to actresses.

Women also described to us having the governor seek them out, stare intently at them and look them up and down or gaze at their chest or butt. In sum, the governor routinely interacted with women in ways that women found deeply humiliating and offensive.

Both federal and state law prohibit gender-based sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact the governor himself in August of 2019 passed a law that changed -- eliminated in New York state the requirement that harassing conduct needed to be severe or pervasive. In New York, a woman need only show that she was treated less well at least in part because of her gender. The governor's conduct detailed in the report clearly meets and far exceeds this standard.

We also find that executive chamber failed to follow its own harassment policies and procedures, ones that on paper are consistent with New York legal requirements. This was exemplified by the handling of Charlotte Bennett's complaint. In June of 2020, Ms. Bennett told the governor's staff about recent conversations of a sexual nature that were so uncomfortable she no longer wanted to interact with the governor.

The chief of staff related the complaints to others in the governor's inner circle and transferred Ms. Bennett within days. Two weeks later, the chief of staff and a special council spoke with Ms. Bennett who detailed interactions with the governor that went back to May of 2019.

The chief of staff and special council both found Ms. Bennett to be credible. The chief of staff consulted with the special counsel and with Melissa DeRosa, the secretary to the governor, and they decided they did not need to report this to the governor's office of employment relations, GOER, or conduct any meaningful investigation. They simply moves Ms. Bennett and instituted a policy not having a junior staffer not be alone with the governor and even that was to protect the governor.

That response we find was a violation of the executive chamber's harassment policy which clearly requires that all possible harassment be reported to GOER and investigated.