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Attorney General: Governor Cuomo & his Office "Violated Multiple State & Federal Laws"; NY AG: Governor Cuomo Created "Hostile Work Environment for Women"; NY AG: Cuomo Engaged in Pattern of Assaulting Women; NY AG finds NY Governor Cuomo Sexually Harassed Multiple Women; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Should Resign. Aired 12-12.30p ET

Aired August 03, 2021 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Guys, thank you very much Paul Callen, David Chalian and Erica Hill. Much more to come on this breaking news of this independent investigation into New York Governor Andrew Cuomo documenting multiple occasions of sexual harassment that stretched on for years by the governor. John King picks up now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you Kate and Hello everyone and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. We begin the hour with dramatic breaking news. A wide ranging investigation concludes the Democratic Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo broke state and federal law by repeatedly sexually harassing women.


LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.


KING: That's the Attorney General of the State of New York speaking at an event in which she and the special team she hired laid out the findings of a five month investigation that included interviews with 179 witnesses 74,000 plus pieces of evidence documents, emails, audio files, pictures, texts. And it included an 11 hour grilling of the governor last month inside his Manhattan Office.

The attorney general and her investigators say the governor engaged in a widespread long running pattern of subjecting subordinates who worked for the state to his unwanted sexual advances. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's New York Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon you're at that press conference just damning detail after damning detail after damning detail.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and what the attorney general - she described it; she said that it is deeply disturbing. Yet it all paints a clear picture. And what we learned is that there were 11 women who came forward, two more than we had initially known about.

Initially, there were nine women who came forward. So during this investigation, two more women came forward bringing the total to 11, including a state trooper, who was on the governor's detail his security detail, and what the governor is accused her of doing by these investigators with their investigation found.

As you said, was certainly disturbing. This is what the attorney general said. This is what the two lawyers who were charged with investigating this case. And the attorney general at the top of her press conference describes what it is they found, and take a listen.


JAMES: Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted 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 our story, or truth.


PROKUPECZ: And John, also the attorney general and the two lawyers here talked about that grilling of the governor. They say that his denials lacked credibility. They also talked about interviewing other people in the Office of Ken Cloward, with stories, of course, all of this.

The big question surrounding is, what are the next steps? Did the attorney general refer this for any kind of criminal charges? She said she did not in terms of this part of the investigation that is over. Ultimately, it could be up to the Albany D.A. were one of the allegations were made for them to bring charges.

It's unclear if that will happen. The other question is what happens to the governor's future? The attorney general here Letitia James did not want to get into that. She said that is political. That is for others to decide. She even said that it is up to the governor to decide on whether or not he's going to resign.

And then of course, the State Assembly, they have their own investigation ongoing and whether or not they are going to proceed with an impeachment. Certainly people expect some members of the assembly to call for his resignation. But that is the big question. What are the next steps in all of this, John?

KING: It is a giant question. And obviously we're waiting to get the first reaction from the governor himself and those other important players as Shimon just mentioned. Shimon, stay with us. I want to bring in our colleague CNN Anchor and Correspondent Erica Hill. Erica, what was striking about this is as the attorney general and the two independent lawyers she hired to look into this laid it out. They were methodical. They were detailed, and a lot of the details were frankly horrific.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR & NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they were. And they were detailing we learned a lot about a person referred to as executive assistant number one, and also a state trooper who was on the governor's security detail and experiences which she laid out as part of this investigation.

Anne Clark, one of those independent investigators talking through that experience laying out with the state trooper told them take a listen.



ANNE CLARK, EMPLOYMENT LAWYER: 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. As he passed, he took his open hand and ran it across your 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.


HILL: And this was just one example - the examples rather I should say, because more than one, they're from one of the 11 complainants. So now we know there are 11. 9 of them current or former state employees and again, as both Anne Clark and Joon who were laying out what they learned in this investigation.

They talked about multiple times how this was part of a pattern, and that the response from the Executive Chamber violated its own policies especially when it came to workplace culture and normalize sex and gender based conduct that was rife with bullying and fear John.

KING: Erica standby as well. Let's continue the conversation and let's bring it to help us our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, our CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams and our CNN Legal Analyst, Former Federal Prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers.

Jennifer, I want to start with you in the sense of well, let's just listen this is very quickly. But the attorney general lays this out so she finds 11 women credible lays out in painstaking detail both the governor's horrific actions and this toxic culture in the workplace in the Executive Branch of the state government. But she says her work is done listen.


JAMES: The matter is a civil in nature and is not - does not have any criminal consequences.


KING: Walk us through then the legal next step. She did refer to one case where one of the woman has filed a complaint with the Albany Police Department about unwanted touching. But when you listen to the presentation, a lot of people out there are going to be saying where the legal accountability is?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I agree, John. I mean, listen, what she's saying is that her office is not going to continue criminally with this matter. The Albany District Attorney has one case if any of the other women wish to press charges, they can go to their local prosecutor or where the event happened sometimes Manhattan sometimes Albany probably to see if charges can be pressed.

But the attorney general says that she's done in a criminal matter is going to be charged, which I don't think it will be here. Most of these incidents didn't rise to the level of sexual assault, arguably none of them dead. So I wouldn't expect criminal actions, but that's probably where it's going to sit.

KING: And Elliott - the attorney general said there were repeated violations of state and federal law. What are the questions for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York right now or the questions for the Biden Justice Department here in Washington?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. You know, they're more likely going to be civil violations like Jennifer was saying. These are workplace infractions and pretty egregious ones. The most fascinating thing is that John, in 2019 Andrew Cuomo himself signed a law lowering the standard on sexual harassment in New York.

In federal law, it's actually very hard to win a sexual harassment suit, but it's a lower standard here. So certainly, the State of New York, there's liability there. And as Jennifer said, as well, individuals will have many - an opportunity to sue, it's not very likely that we're going to see criminal charges either from the U.S. Attorney's Office or the Justice Department here.

KING: Well, as we wait to watch that process play out, there are many political questions. Number one is what is the governor going to say? What is the governor going to say now that he's listened to this presentation, and understands the scope of the investigation? He probably had a pretty good clue in the 11 hours of being interviewed.

But now he understands what has been made public and the report has been made public. I want you to listen first to Anne Clark. Again, this is the Governor of New York, one of the largest States in America. He is the Head Chairman right now the National Governors Association.

He was of course, a very prominent democratic voice throughout the pandemic. Now, one of the private investigators, the lawyers will look into the set this is Andrew Cuomo.


CLARK: The governor also engaged in a widespread pattern of subjecting women to unwanted hugs and kisses and touching them in ways that made them uncomfortable. Conduct that is not just old fashioned, affectionate behavior as he and some of his staff members would have it, but unlawful sex based harassment.


KING: There are just - number one, the first question is what's AU Andrew Cuomo after this is laid out, but there is an impeachment question in Albany, there is a question about whether he wouldn't - people say no people who know him say no way. Would he step aside?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, people know him still say no way in terms of stepping aside. Never mind, there still open questions of whether or not he would run for a fourth term. So the question at this point, politically is, frankly, what is the leader of the Democratic Party now the President of the United States say?


BASH: In an interview he gave when all of these allegations were wrapped in with ABC News, the question was, if these allegations were turned out to be true, should he resign? And President Biden said, yes. This is not an easy thing for him to do, because the families, the Biden Cuomo, families go back a long time.

But that's a big statement. Now, the question for the White House is going to be did the president mean that if that's found in a court of law, or what we just heard this morning from the Attorney General of New York, we don't know the answer to that.

And we've already seen when the allegations came out, Democrat after Democrat after Democrat from Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand in the Senate to many of his Democratic colleagues in the Congressional Delegation in the House saying that he should resign. So that's not new.

But if I may, the political ramifications are very important. But I just, you know, as a woman stepping back and listening to these allegations in the detail that they were laid out, in the press conference, never mind what we're going to see in this very lengthy report?

The fact that you have these women saying that they went to a place for public service, and they were not able to do that job because of not just a hostile work environment, because they were, they felt that they were being sexually abused, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, pick your word, obviously, that will be determined by court.

But it is remarkable to hear that detail. And as Kate Bolduan said in the last hour in 2020, not in 1971 not in, you know, 2000 in 2020, after all of the "#Metoo" allegations erupted, and after that was part of the culture in this country.

KING: Right. Then the meticulous detail and to agree with the Attorney Generals of New York the bravery of the women to come forward knowing how powerful the governor is? But also and we'll continue this conversation also, the governor's - the allegations against the governor here the findings against the government that allegations or findings against the governor are reprehensible.

There's also we'll get to this conversation about what his top aides did that this toxic culture where people were berated and pushed aside when they came forward with legitimate complaints more on that, but we're also getting - right now we're waiting for word from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

But we are getting some reaction now from some of the alleged victims in this case. Erica Hill is back with us with that, Erica?

HILL: Yes, we are hearing more. Two of the women who are named in this report Ana Liss and Charlotte Bennett reacting on Twitter, first from Ana Liss who posted thank you, thank you to everyone who expressed support out loud, and in whispers for hugs and hand squeezes and text.

Thank you mentioning some of the other women there, Lindsey Boylan, who you know who would come forward as well, Charlotte Bennett, posting on Twitter resign, very simply resign Governor Cuomo. She, of course, had detailed what she says she experienced in a couple of different interviews.

And we heard from Anne Clark just a short time ago talking about the corroboration of her account. That was basically in real time the texts and the conversations that she had about those encounters with Governor Cuomo.

He has, of course, repeatedly denied the allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment. And there was a specific question about that. In the press conference a short time ago, John, as to whether he admitted to or denied any of these allegations.

And we were told that it was a combination, some he had a different interpretation of those encounters and others, the governor said he didn't remember.

KING: Erica Hill is trying to build the file of the reaction. It's very important reaction and it's critical. These women were hearing the investigations critical they be heard now, that the investigation is out. Shimon Prokupecz I believe is still with us. We're beginning to get some of the reaction. Oh, Shimon has gone I'm sorry.

Jennifer Rodgers, beginning to get some of the reaction from key players in the terms of what's next, the Speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie says these findings are gut wrenching, that's inappropriate word there, and then says they will now be considered by the assembly.

We will now undertake our in depth examination of this report and its corresponding exhibits. And then they said more to say in the very near future. So we talked before about there are some criminal investigations that may well happen here. But the political step impeachment is now in the hands of the New York Assembly.

RODGERS: That's right. And they certainly have what they need, because this report, while it didn't contain more blockbuster allegations, in terms of the type of conduct. We didn't hear of any rapes or attempted rapes, that sort of thing.

It did have more women who came forward with the same kind of conduct we had heard about, and it had allegations of the cover up the treatment of Charlotte Bennett after she made her complaint. And the way that they tried to hide that is really, really important in terms of what kind of leader he is and how he abused his office.

So if I'm in the assembly, that's really important that they look at that, in addition to of course, all of the other matters that the assembly is looking at that we're not part of this report that they certainly have a lot to chew on here.

KING: And Elliot, if you're in the room with the Governor of New York right now as a legal representative, and he's asking you for your advice.


KING: It would appear there may be one or two criminal investigations out of this, it is more likely that this will end up being a civil matter from legal. Let's set impeachment aside.


KING: A civil matter some of these women very well may soon out the governor.


KING: And they'll have this report and the findings of the attorney general and this investigative team behind them. What is his move?

WILLIAMS: Look, it's the weight of the evidence, John. And it's what's striking here is number one, the number of allegations number two, the amount of evidence that was presented. But also that the attorney general outsource this investigation to two people with unimpeachable credentials one with a background as a civil and criminal litigator and one as a workplace harassment expert in the State of New York.

This is, you know, often these cases are he said, versus she said. Here, it's an army said versus one individual said, and it's just going to be very hard to overcome the weight of this evidence. Yes--

BASH: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you. I think that's such an important point. Because already leading up to this, you heard the people around the governor saying, well, this is political, because Letitia James, the attorney general wants this job. She wants to be Governor of New York.

And the fact that she buffered that or she surrounded herself with people who you describe as a legal expert, and somebody who knows it with people who are, should not and do not have a political axe to grind is really, really key here.

And the other thing that you said before, John, when I was talking about these allegations, you're exactly right, when you said they were finding this was because of the people who were doing it. This was an extensive exhaustive report where they interviewed not just the women, but the people in the workplace, and the governor himself.

And the fact that it isn't just the people who worked around him in the political sense, but it was a state trooper, somebody who was assigned to protect him to protect his life at all costs. That had to, according to this report, deal with being sexually harassed by the man she was trying to protect.

KING: It's--

BASH: --can't believe it.

KING: --you go through them. Another woman was a business woman in upstate New York who did not work for the governor alleged that he gave her unwanted kisses on her cheek during a visit to her home to tour flood damage.

WILLIAMS: And it's not just the number of the allegations, it's the consistency of them. They all corroborate each other. And that's the kind of legal gold for if you are bringing cases against an individual.

KING: And so the question becomes at some point, who does the governor listen to? And we know this is just a fact. You know - its New York democratic politics are kind of dysfunctional. And Governor Cuomo is a powerful figure but he is an island.

We know he has a contest to - very feisty relationship. I'll use that word with the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. They don't get along. Bill de Blasio just saying that he hasn't read the entire report yet. But he finds what he has heard very troubling and painful to hear and that he has said in before that what we have seen his disqualifying. The question is, will the governor listen?

BASH: There's no evidence leading up to today that the answer to that is yes. We could all be surprised. But you have to believe that deep in his heart, he knew that all of this was going to come out because of the nature and the intensity of this investigation. And yet he has been saying that he is not going to go anywhere.

KING: Right. It'd be again that the burden is on him now to respond. Anne Clark, one of the independent investigators said that the governor admitted some of this behavior took issues with some of the context or the seriousness level of it, and disputed parts of it as well during the 11 hour interview with these investigators.

Again, we're waiting for the response from the Governor of New York and other important players. Up next from us much more on this breaking news the investigation concludes Andrew Cuomo sexually assaulted multiple, sexually harassed multiple women.



KING: We're now on the dramatic breaking news this hour. A month long investigation corroborates multiple allegations for multiple women that the Democratic Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed them.

I want to bring in Democratic Congressman from New York Mondaire Jones. Congressman, thank you for your time on this day. I anticipated we're going to have a different conversation. But we'll have that another day. The Democratic Governor of New York 11 women, painstaking detail, horrific details laid out by the two independent lawyers who investigated this do you believe Andrew Cuomo can stay in office?

REP. MONDAIRE JONES (D-NY): No. I think the governor's conduct is disqualifying. And it's why so many Democratic members of the New York Congressional Delegation and the State Legislature call on him to resign several months ago.

My heart goes out to the victims, most importantly, of Governor Cuomo's conduct both the sexual harassment piece and in some instances, the sexual assaults. And this is something that no one should ever have to experience.

I'm also thinking of my sisters and my friends who work in politics and all of the people who are at risk of people like Governor Cuomo's conduct and those we have to stop this. We have to set a standard. And I'm hopeful that we can resolve this in short order at the legislative level, if nothing else, in terms of removing him from office.

KING: In the meantime, we're waiting to hear from the governor. If his answer is I want to fight I want to stay dispute some of these allegations. What will you do? What should the New York Delegation do?

JONES: The evidence of misconduct is replete. And of course this is separate and apart from the nursing home data manipulation and all the other things that led to the impeachment inquiry that the State Legislature began several months ago.


JONES: This is something that is a huge distraction. In addition, by the way, from the act of governing, as the Governor of New York State, we are so ill served by the status quo in the great State of New York, and today is a very, very sad day in the history of our state. In order to move forward, we must have new leadership.

KING: Part of that new leadership question, it's not just the governor himself, if you were listening to the press briefing by the attorney general, and especially again, the two independent lawyers she hired to look into this.

The environment in the governor's office is reprehensible in their view, of violation of state policy and a violation perhaps, of state and federal law with top aides to the governor essentially helping cover this up and shove people aside and berate them, if they brought forward allegation.

So what should be done about that? And are you disappointed? The attorney general said this was a civil investigation, therefore, my work is done? Do you think she needs to do more?

JONES: You know I will leave it up to the prosecutorial authorities to determine whether the press forward with criminal charges or civil fines. But make no mistake about it. Anyone who's an even superficial observer of New York politics is familiar with some aspects of the culture in the governor's orbit.

And so everyone who is responsible for this conduct weather as active participants or as people who helped to cover it up, or otherwise facilitate the misconduct should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, and certainly should not continue to hold the positions that they hold.

KING: You mentioned earlier in the conversation that you hope this is resolved legislatively, by that I assume you mean impeachment by the legislature in Albany.

The question at this moment and especially for younger newly elected progressive like yourself, who even before we knew about these specific allegations, has been clamoring for change, if you will, for the status quo to change. How do you mobilize at this moment to get results and get them quickly?

JONES: You know, this isn't about policy disagreements. I want to be very clear about it. There is an independent basis now to have this governor removed. In addition, people of all political stripes throughout New York State can agree that this is conduct unbecoming of a governor, and indeed disqualifying.

And I think that is what is going to mobilize people to elect new leadership in next year's election.

KING: Congressman Jones, I'm grateful for your time today. As I said, we were going to discuss other important issues being debated here in Washington right now. We will have that conversation on another day. But I'm grateful for your joining us about this breaking news in your home state. Thank you, sir.

JONES: Thank you.

KING: We'll come back into the room here conversation with our political panel. Dana Bash is still with us also here to share their reporting and their insights Seung Min Kim of "The Washington Post" Tia Mitchell of "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" and "The Daily Beast's" Jackie Kucinich.

I want to come back to the point you made earlier, I asked you a political question. And you smartly put the bigger context in right now for accomplished female journalists at the table, to listen to the attorney general layout detailed allegations, 11 women against one of the most powerful men of the United States of America, not just the Governor of New York, but a national figure with a brand name in American politics. What is the importance of the moment?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It's certainly just shows - it's certainly a message to women that now you know, after decades, and it's for so long, of having this behavior be so common by powerful men, that their allegations, their stories will be taken seriously.

And I think that's, that's what we're seeing from some of the women's reactions coming in early after the report. And so just really, first of all, our gratitude to the women who were brave enough to come and talk to authorities about this. And I think this sends a message to women across the country across the world that you will be listened to by authorities now.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: I thought it was really powerful when the attorney general said, we've listened to these women and we believe them. And so it's not just about the bravery of the women for coming forward.

But for women, you know, on any level, not just when you accuse a powerful politician, but when you when you accuse the boy next door, your boyfriend to believe that people in power will believe you but I think the moment depends a lot on what Governor Cuomo does next?

KING: To that point we've just been told we will hear from the governor in about 30 minutes. The Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo to respond to this at one o'clock and as we wait for the governor, I want to put this on the record.

Many of you know this, but the governor's brother Chris works right here at CNN as an anchor. We should note that and he was interviewed as part of this report, as someone who reached out and talked to his brother, as this crisis was unfolding.

Again, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York to speak about 30 minutes from now. Respond 30 minutes from now, if that is a live event, we'll bring it to you here obviously on CNN. And the stakes for the governor are enormous.

If you heard one of the investigators Anne Clark saying he acknowledged some of this said some - said he had a different view on how some of it played out and denied other parts of it.