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At This Hour
New York Attorney General Finds Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Sexually Harassed Multiple Women. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired August 03, 2021 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNE CLARK, SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR: Of the executive chamber's harassment policy, which clearly requires that all possible harassment be reported to GOER and investigated.
Now, six months in December of 2020 when Lindsey Boylan tweeted that she had been sexually harassed by the governor, the executive chamber, once again, failed to report the issue to GOER. Although, Mr. Rosa, the special counsel, and certain other advisers knew about the allegations that Charlotte Bennett had made that the special counsel had found credibly, no one treated Ms. Boylan's allegations seriously other than as a threat to the governor.
Rather than any effort to determine if the governor had engaged in a pattern of sexually harassing behavior, a team of senior staffers, former staffers and outside confidants with no official title or role mobilized to attack and try to neutralize Ms. Boylan by sharing disparaging information with the press.
Within hours of Ms. Boylan's December 13th, 2020 tweet alleging sexual harassment, key members of the governor's inner circle had obtained confidential memos, ones that were stamped attorney/client privilege. They were primarily about an interaction between Ms. Boylan and an assistant. Then they redacted the names of individuals other than Ms. Boylan and started sending the memos to reporters.
There was also a proposed letter or op-ed drafted by the governor that went through several drafts. The letter attacked Ms. Boylan for alleged conduct at work for alleged conduct with men other than the governor, as well as postulating various political conspiracies, including that Ms. Boylan was funded by far-right Republicans and supported of Donald Trump.
Although the letter was never published, it was sent or read to a vary of people outside of the executive chamber either to get their advice and asked them to sign their names to it, and shared ultimately with at least one member of the press.
The governor was arguing for the release of that letter. He was finally convinced to abandon it by a number of people who thought the letter was a bad idea in part because what was in the letter couldn't be substantiated and because they thought that victim shaming would be bad as a strategy. Both federal and state law prohibit an employer from taking any action that with dissuade a reasonable employee or former employee from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. Under that standard, the confidential release of internal records to the press and the dissemination of the letter disparaging Ms. Boylan constituted unlawful retaliation.
I will now turn it back to Mr. Kim to say a few words about our findings with respect to the workplace culture within the executive chamber.
JOON KIM, SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR: Thank you, Ms. Clark.
As set forth in our report, we find that the culture within the executive chamber contributed to the conditions that allowed the governor's sexually harassing conduct to occur and to persist. The culture also informed the way in which the executive chamber responded to allegations of sexual harassment, as Ms. Clark has described, through violations of their own policies and through unlawful retaliation.
Well, what was the culture? Words that witnesses have used repeatedly to describe it include toxic, hostile, abusive. Others used words like fear, intimidation, bullying, vindictive.
As one senior staffer stated bluntly, as the sexual harassment allegations became public, in March of this year in text exchanges, with others -- with another in the executive -- in the administration, I quote, hopefully, when this is all done, people will realize that the culture even outside of the sexual harassment stuff is not something that you can get away with. You can't berate and terrify people 24/7, close quote.
It was a culture where you could not say no to the governor. And if you upset him or his senior staff, you would be written off, cast aside, or worse.
But at the same time, the witnesses described a culture that normalized and overlooked every day flirtations, physical intimacy and inappropriate comments by the governor. One senior staffer testified that at a work event, she sat on the governor's lap. Another staffer said she recalled kissing the governor on the lips.
The governor testified that those things may have happened with senior staffers.
One complainant described her interactions with the governor by saying they were, quote, strange and uncomfortable. But it was like the twilight zone. The typical rules did not apply. You should just view it as a compliment if the governor finds you aesthetically pleasing enough, close quote.
The coexistence in the executive chamber, executive chamber's culture of fear and flirtation, intimidation, and intimacy, abuse and affection created a work environment ripe for harassment.
As another complainant testified, and I quote, what makes it so hard to describe every single inappropriate incident is the culture of the place. On the one hand, he makes all of this inappropriate and creepy behavior normal, and like you should not complain. On the other hand, you see people getting punished and screamed at if you do anything where you disagree with him or his top aides. I really just wanted to go to work and be recognized for my work and nothing else, close quote.
Charlotte Bennett, the complainant, as Ms. Clark mentioned, who was transferred after she reported inappropriate comments by the governor to senior staff, summarized her experience in a text message as follows. Quote, the verbal abuse, intimidation and living in constant fear were all horribly toxic, dehumanizing and traumatizing. And then he came on to me. I was scared to imagine what would happen if I rejected him. So I disappeared instead. My time in public service ended because he was bored and lonely. It still breaks my heart. That is a quote from a text that Ms. Bennett wrote.
The culture, this culture made it all the more difficult, if not, impossible for complainants to report the harassment from which they were suffering, particularly when the harasser was the governor of the state of New York. But one by one, one courageous woman after another, stepped forward, they stepped forward to say enough is enough. They came forward in our investigation to tell us about their experiences, the harassment they suffered at the hands of the governor.
In our report, we've used their words. And their words so long silenced speak loudly for themselves. These brave women stepped forward to speak truth to power. And in doing so, they expressed faith in the belief that although the governor may be powerful, the truth is even more so.
This is what lies at the heart of our investigation and the findings in our report.
LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: We will now take questions and the questioning will be directed by Delaney Kempner.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold on. Please say your name and your outlet.
REPORTER: Marcia Karmer from CBS. I wonder if you can tell me if the governor will be facing any -- I know this is a civil investigation but will you be making any referral to prosecutors (INAUDIBLE) with state or federal charges?
JAMES: Our work is concluded and the document is now public. And the matter is civil in nature and is not -- does not have any criminal consequences. It is my understanding --
CLARK: I will state that it is our understanding that for the young woman whose breast was groped to the Albany Police Department already has a report about that. As for anything else, as the attorney general stated, all of the information is fully documented in the report and any prosecutors or police departments can look at the evidence and determine if they want to take further action.
REPORTER: Hi, (INAUDIBLE).
Now that this report has concluded, will your office be (INAUDIBLE) investigating whether or not these are impeachable offenses? And if so, what's coordination between the office the assembly?
JAMES: There is no coordination between the Office of Attorney General and the assembly. The document is now public and will be distributed to members of the assembly as well as the leadership.
REPORTER: Can the governor -- Bernadette Hogan from the New York Post. Can the governor be sued in any way, is that a statute of limitations or are there any penalties specifically tied to this report --
CLARK: Sure. There are no penalties specifically tied to this report. The women can decide -- some of the women could decide themselves if they want to bring a civil action. The statute of limitations is generally three years under one federal statute and the state law and a little bit shorter under another federal statute, although for hostile work environments, as long as one act occurs within the statute of limitations, one can go back to cover the entire hostile work environment.
REPORTER: And in regards to the violation against the executive chamber's own policy, what kind of violations could be --
CLARK: That meant I can't think of a specific law. That's how I would file it. But that certainly was taken into account in determining liability for sexual harassment.
REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). Tish James, Can I ask you, do you think the governor, given the devastating nature of this report, and I get what you're saying about it is up to local prosecutors if they want to move forward on this, but do you think that this would all be wrapped up well if he would you resign, leave?
JAMES: That decision ultimately is up to the governor of the state of New York. The report speaks for itself. And right now, I think we should only be focused on the courageous and bravery of the women who came forward (INAUDIBLE) on keeping women safe, believing women and allowing them to speak their truth. And that is exactly what this document does.
REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE), WNBC. You mentioned in your opening remarks today defending the credentials of your investigators today. Are you personally bothered by the governor's own remarks in the past week or so that you can just Google their backgrounds and draw your own conclusion that this is a politically motivated investigation?
JONES: There were attempts to undermine and to politicize this investigation. And there were attacks on me as well as members of the team, which I find offensive. And our focus, again, should be on the bravery and the courage of these 11 women and of the others who came forward. These allegations were substantiated. They were corroborated.
And the team before you, Ms. Clark and Mr. Kim, are professionals who are widely respected not only in New York and but all across this nation. And I support their work, will defend their work. And I believe these women.
REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). You mentioned that a corroborated a lot of what the witness testimony was when you spoke with them during the investigation. When you interviewed Governor Cuomo, did he admit to or deny regarding of what was said here?
CLARK: There was a combination. There are some incidents that he admitted to but had a different interpretation of. And there were other things that he denied or said he didn't recall.
REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) WIC. Can you speak a little bit more about what that conversation, that 11th hour conversation was like (INAUDIBLE)?
CLARK: Again, we can't all (INAUDIBLE) of it. Listen, there were certain things like he admitted that he asked Ms. Bennett whether she had been involved with older men. He denied touching the state trooper although he said he may have kissed her at an event. And there were certain things that he turned around and said that, for example, the executive assistant number one, that he did hug her repeatedly but claimed she was the one who initiated the hugs. So it was a mixture of admitting to certainly things but putting a different spin on them and denying others.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Shimon Prokupecz from CNN. So, what are the next steps here? Now this report, obviously, a lot of the devastating information in it, a lot people are going ask, okay, so what happens next? When you're not referring to put criminal charges, what are the next steps that you would like to see perhaps maybe the assembly take or someone else take to have some other kind of punishment or something else here? Because right now, it just seems like we have this report and it's out there. What would be the next step?
JAMES: We were tasked with the responsibility of engaging in an investigation, and we have concluded our investigation. And our work is done.
And so as it relates to next steps, that is entirely up to the governor and/or the assembly and the general public. But the work of the Office of the Attorney General and these special deputies has concluded.
PROKUPECZ: Do you think the governor should run for reelection?
JAMES: That is a political question. The work of the Office of the Attorney General is done.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. We're going to take some more questions in here and then we're going to go virtual. REPORTER: Hi, Dana (INAUDIBLE) from the New York Times. This is a little bit of a hypothetical, but if an individual with a history of running a workplace like this were running for governor, would you consider that person fit to serve as the leader of New York State?
JAMES: I won't engage in speculation, Dana. The report speaks for itself. They substantiated and corroborated the allegations and have issued findings and, in fact, the governor violated the state and federal laws.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. This is the last one here and then we're going to go virtual.
REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE), NBC News. As a prosecutor and as an attorney general, are you frustrated that you can't move criminally on these charges, numerous charges that you and the investigators have said are both state, violate state and federal law?
JAMES: It is not an issue of being frustrated. The issue was we were tasked by the responsibility by the governor in the state of New York to issue a report and we have issued this a report. And all the rapid process we put our heads down and we've done our work, and at this point the chip -- we're going to allow the chips to fall where they may.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. We're going to go virtual now. (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everybody. If you have a question, please click the raise hand button. If you have a question, please click the raise hand button.
First, we're going to hear from Jon Campbell from Gannett. Jon, your mic is open.
REPORTER: Hi, Attorney General. A couple of questions, and I apologize, it is tough to hear some of the questions so some of these might be repeats here.
But the investigation into the governor's book, book deal as well as the staff resources that were used on that, does that remain ongoing, that is separate from this, is it still ongoing? And also can you make some sort of formal referral to prosecutors' offices based on this report today or is that something that they would have to pick up the ball on on their own?
JAMES: The investigation with respect to the book and whether or not public resources will utilized is ongoing and it is separate and apart from this investigation. And with regards to criminal jurisdiction, criminal jurisdiction usually is conveyed upon the Office of Attorney General. Usually, we get a request under the executive law.
And at this point in time, our work is concluded and we will not be engaging in any criminal investigation with respect to the conduct of the governor of the state of New York.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our second question is from Josh Dawsey from Washington Post. Josh, your line is open.
Josh, you have to unmute your line.
REPORTER: Can you me now, I'm sorry?
JAMES: Yes, we can hear you, Josh.
REPORTER: Hi, Attorney General.
JAMES: Hi, Josh.
REPORTER: There appear to be 11 allegations here, 11 different victims. Did you find all 11 of the victims who came forward to be credible and were you able to find contemporaneous notes or proof about all 11 of the victims?
CLARK: We found all 11 women to be credible. There was corroboration to varying degrees. Probably at the end of being most corroborated, Charlotte Bennett talked to people and texted people contemporaneously. Some of her texts were practically in real-time regarding conversations with the governor. As well the reports that she made to the chief of staff and the special counsel, they're contemporaneous notes are quite consistent with what she said to the press and what she told us.
The state trooper, the touching incidents, the one where he touched her stomach was witnessed by another state trooper who confirmed it to us. The kiss of the governor -- the governor kissed her once, that was confirmed by another state trooper and there were other incidents where she told people at the time.
Other people that we spoke to did tell people at the time and we confirmed with the people they spoke with or had written documentation, either text messages or emails, in which they recounted things contemporaneously. So things -- so when you see the report, everything is documented, things were very well corroborated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our next question is from Emma Kinery from Bloomberg News. Emma, your line is open.
REPORTER: Hello. Thank you. I was wondering, you said that your work is done, but there's still a criminal matter in place. What would you -- what will happen from there?
JAMES: So, I cannot speculate as to what will happen from external agencies and/or external legislative bodies. That is entirely up to them. But as far as the Office of Attorney General is concerned, our office and our investigation has concluded. We will be issuing this report along with evidence to the general public.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our next question is from Ryan Tarinelli from the New York Law Journal.
REPORTER: Yes, can you hear me okay? JAMES: Yes.
REPORTER: So, I know that there was mention of a report to the Albany Police Department regarding the groping incident. Can you specify if that was made by the executive chamber or has the victim herself stepped forward and given a report to the Albany Police Department?
KIM: It's our understanding that the report was made by the executive chamber.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our last question is from Rebecca Lewis from City & State. Rebecca, your line is open.
REPORTER: Hi, Attorney General. I just want to ask with this report out now, you said that you're not going to speculate on whether the governor is fit to serve or if he should run again. What do you want the public to take away from this report?
JAMES: That these 11 women were in a hostile and toxic work environment, and that we should believe women. And that what we have an obligation and duty to do is to protect women in their workplace.
And what this investigation revealed was a disturbing pattern of conduct by the governor of the great state of New York and those who basically did not put in place any protocols or procedures to protect these young women who believed in public service.
I believe women, and I believe these 11 women. I thank you all for being here this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: A bombshell report in an independent investigation into the Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. The attorney general of New York right there laying out the findings.
Let me bring in right now former New York City Prosecutor Paul Callan, David Chalian is also here with me, as well as Erica Hill.
Paul, what is your reaction of what we just learned?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Kate, it's an utterly and completely shocking report, really devastating for the reputation of Governor Andrew Cuomo. This report was conducted by two very, very experienced lawyers. Joon Kim is a former acting U.S. Attorney and the very prestigious Southern District of New York. Anne Clark is one of the best-known attorneys, civil attorneys handling civil cases of sexual harassment in the United States.
And it appears to be a very extensive report and it actually accuses the governor of activity that could even be criminal, that there was some talk there about touching the breast of somebody without their permission and authority. That would be a crime under New York law. The statute of limitations may be gone on that by now, and that's going to be an issue on all of these charges.
But it's a shocker and a devastating indictment of the governor.
BOLDUAN: Erica, 179 witnesses were interviewed. There are 11 people, I assume, all women allegations that are detailed in this report. Some of this we knew publicly, some we did not until this has come out. Let's keep the focus on these women. Tell me what you've learned.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. 11 complaints, as we learned and nine of them, Kate, are current or former state employees. And Anne Clark was just asked there just how credible these complaints were. Were their stories corroborated? And she specifically noted some of these different incidents that are detailed and laid out the history there to paint this picture.
One which we're learning a little bit more about is referred to as executive assistant number one. And Anne Clark laying out repeated violations with this woman that culminated, in her words, numerous repeated occasions, she talked about how executive assistant number one would talk about how the governor hugged her too tight, grabbed her butt and said that this person broke down in March when she heard Governor Cuomo say at a press conference that he had never touched anyone inappropriately.
She was so disturbed by that.
Also we're learning too from a state trooper who was one of these complainants, who was on the governor's security detail. And the details that we were given, again, just a short time ago, that this state trooper was touched, was touched at one point the governor reportedly running his finger along her neck, then at one point touched her stomach, moved his hand over to where her firearm was. And this trooper saying she felt, quote, completely violated.
And in terms of how credible these 11 complainants are, that question was just asked. Anne Clark saying they found them all to be credible, that a number of them had other people who could corroborate their accounts. She specifically referenced Charlotte Bennett who, of course, first spoke to the New York Times, also did a lengthy interview with CBS News, detailing what she experienced, the conversations she experienced with the governor, where she talked about how he asked her about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault and asked her specifically about the details of that experience, talked to her about how he was lonely, how he would like a girlfriend, talked specifically about the age of a woman he would feel comfortable being with, saying that that was about 22. She was 25 at the time.
Anne Clark just saying that it was almost as if she was taking not just contemporaneous notes but really, in real-time, talking and texting about her conversations with the governor. Why that made her feel uncomfortable, what she felt was inappropriate, again, in those texts, in the conversations. She brought it to the chief of staff, and that what she had told the media really was backed up by all of these other reports. So the detail not only of these allegations, but, again, Kate, of the support that they found in terms of that evidence. I mean, that really, too, is what they were pointing to, talking about this culture that was created, this toxic work environment for so many women in the executive chamber.
BOLDUAN: Yes, and attempts at retaliation when this was even raised. That's another part of this.
David, just your reaction. Of course, I'm going to go back to Paul on kind of legal impacts and fallout from this, but this is devastating. What's your reaction?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is. I mean, the report itself is obviously damning. This is definitely one of Andrew Cuomo's lowest days in public life. But I think Tish James, the attorney general, has kind of put where we're going here next, right?
She said, what happens next is up to the governor. Well, everything we know about Andrew Cuomo is he's not likely to resign his office over this in any way. He's made that pretty clear. He's also indicated he really intends to run for reelection next year.
Then she said, it's up to the assembly, meaning potential impeachment process underway. I don't think we have evidence yet at all from the New York State Assembly Legislature overall that removing Governor Cuomo from office is an assured thing here.
And she finally said, it's going to be up to the voters. And I have a feeling that that is where this is going to end up politically is that voters are going to come to a determination if everything they heard today, if everything they read in this report is information that says to them that Andrew Cuomo does not deserve to be governor anymore, that will become clearer, I would imagine, pretty quickly.
I mean, it's already a tall task for Cuomo to ask the voters to send them back for a fourth term, right? That's already a tall task. But, obviously, with this report, that gets tougher.
And I would just note, though, this is the -- you listen to this today, Kate, this is the kind of stuff not that long ago would have been completely swept under the rug and we would know nothing about this. But for --
BOLDUAN: Yes, David --
CHALIAN: -- the bravery of the women.
BOLDUAN: 100 percent. I'm sorry to jump in, but what's killing me on this as well is this continued through 2020. This isn't 2010 even. This isn't the olden days. This is a conduct and behavior that was the governor sexually harassed multiple women they document at least from 2013 through 2020.
CHALIAN: Which is why you have to admire the strength, courage and bravery of the women to come forward, exactly what you're saying, that even in 2020, the power dynamic is so stacked against them in that way.
HILL: Can I just make one point on that too, if you don't mind, Kate? To that point, from what we heard from Charlotte Bennett, and this was, again, just highlighted by Joon Kim, who was talking about some of her text messages and the message that they sent to what both you're saying here about the power dynamic, which she has talked about repeatedly.
In one of her text messages she said she feared what would happen if she rejected the governor so, quote, I disappeared instead. And he specifically referenced that today to paint this picture of that power dynamic.
BOLDUAN: Yes. Guys, thank you very much, Paul Callan, David Chalian, Erica Hill. Much more to come on this breaking of this independent investigation into New York Governor.