What we know about sex harassment claims, COVID deaths

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose political future looked golden 11 months ago, is now fighting for survival after two former aides accused him of sexual harassment, a third woman accused him of making an unwanted advance and his administration acknowledged withholding data on COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

The New York governor, now in his third term, faces investigations into both scandals and a growing list of critics that includes Republicans as well as many of his fellow Democrats. He had resisted ceding control of the sexual harassment inquiry, but he relented under pressure and referred the matter to New York Attorney General Letitia James on Sunday.

The same day, he issued a public apology in which he said was “truly sorry” if “some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”

Here’s a rundown of the allegations against Cuomo, how he has responded and where the investigations stand.

First accuser: Lindsey Boylan

Lindsey Boylan, Cuomo’s former deputy secretary of economic development and special adviser, wrote a 1,700-word post on the website Medium last week in which she said she was subjected to unwanted advances by Cuomo during her nearly two years working for the administration.

She said that on one occasion, the governor asked her if she wanted to play “strip poker” while they were traveling on a state-owned plane, and on another, he gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips as she was leaving his office.

Boylan, 36,first made the allegations on Twitter in December, but the story gained little national attention at the time amid then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to challenge the results of the Nov. 3 election.

Second accuser: Charlotte Bennett

In her Medium post, Boylan alleged Cuomo had “created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.” And on Saturday, a second accuser came forward to support that characterization.

Charlotte Bennett, 25, a former aide who left the Cuomo administration in November, tweeted, “For those wondering what it’s like to work for the Cuomo admin, read @LindseyBoylan’s story.”

In a story that ran Saturday, Bennett told The New York Times that Cuomo, 63, had made her uncomfortable with questions about her sex life, whether she would consider dating an older man and a comment that he would be willing to have a relationship “with anyone above the age of 22.”

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told The Times.

Third accuser: Anna Ruch

Thirty-three-year-old Ruch said Cuomo made an unwanted advance at a New York City wedding in September 2019, the first time she had met him.

She told The New York Times on Monday that Cuomo placed his hand on her lower back, which was exposed. She then removed his hand, she said, and Cuomo grabbed her face with both hands and asked if he could kiss her. She then pulled away.

“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,”  Ruch told the Times, which included a photo of the moment Cuomo had his hands on Ruch’s face in its reporting. “I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment.”

Cuomo’s initial responses to harassment allegations

When Boylan first came forward in December, Cuomo said that “the tweets were simply not true.”

“Look, I fought for and I believe a woman has a right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has, but it’s just not true,” he said.

The governor’s office repeated his denial after Boylan’s post on Medium last week and released a statement from four current and former aides who said they would have been on the October 2017 flight where Cuomo allegedly brought up strip poker.

“We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” they said.

After Bennett spoke to The Times, Cuomo said in a statement: “I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.”

Cuomo apologizes for ‘misinterpreted’ comments

On Sunday, Cuomo apologized for any behavior that offended anyone, without addressing any specific claims against him aside from a vague reference to questions that “have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office.”

“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times,” Cuomo said in his statement. “I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.

Cuomo said he now realized that he “may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended.”

“I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” he said.

More:As scandals engulf Andrew Cuomo, candidates eye 2022 run for governor

‘That’s not an apology’

Many found the governor’s effort to apologize lacking, including Bennett, who criticized his apology on Monday.

“The governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior,” Bennett said through her attorney.

“As we know, abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences,” she said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that with his statement, Cuomo looked as if he was “letting himself off the hook.”

“That’s not an apology,” de Blasio said in a news conference Monday, adding that Cuomo “seemed to be saying he was just kidding around.”

“Sexual harassment is not funny,” he said.

Democratic state Sen. Mike Gianaris said that rather than apologize, Cuomo appeared to be “shifting the blame onto the survivors.”

“There’s a big difference between ‘I’m sorry if you were offended by what I did’ and ‘I’m sorry for what I did,'” Gianaris told NY1.

NY attorney general to pick independent investigator

Cuomo initially resisted calls to refer the sexual harassment allegations to James so the attorney general could grant an independent investigator subpoena power. Instead, he proposed it be directed by former U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, who once worked as a partner in a law firm with one of Cuomo’s closest advisers.

The proposal was met with accusations that Cuomo was trying to control the investigation, which state and federal lawmakers insisted should be independent. The White House even weighed in, with press secretary Jen Psaki telling CNN “there should be an independent review looking into these allegations.”

Cuomo next proposed the investigator be jointly selected by James and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, whom he appointed. But after James flatly rejected the idea and criticism mounted, Cuomo agreed to give James sole authority to select who will conduct the probe.

COVID-19 nursing home deaths

Cuomo’s administration is already facing a federal investigation for its handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes before the call for an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations.

The federal investigation was launched after top aide Melissa DeRosa acknowledged holding back key death data and information from lawmakers and the public after receiving an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Justice last year.

Just under a year ago, Cuomo’s daily press briefings during the first weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. brought calls for him to launch a late entry into the crowded Democratic presidential primary.

But the state’s acknowledged undercounting of nursing home deaths from the coronavirus and the scrutiny over an order March 25 to allow nursing home residents in hospitals to return home with COVID-19 has put his political future in jeopardy.

More:Cuomo was a national star for COVID response. Nursing home deaths upended that.

The political fallout

Last April, a Siena College poll put Cuomo’s job performance rating at a high of 71% positive to 28% negative.

Last week, a Marist College poll showed 49% of New Yorkers approve of the job Cuomo is doing as governor, and 44% say they do not approve.

That was before the latest sexual harassment allegations were revealed.

Gianaris, the No. 2 Democrat in the New York Senate, told NY1 on Monday that amid the scandals roiling his administration, “whether or not the governor can continue is an open question.”

Cuomo has indicated he might seek a fourth term as governor. But now, not only is his ability to win another term in question, but he also faces some calls from within his own party for his resignation or even impeachment.

“You are a monster, and it is time for you to go. Now,” tweeted Democratic state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi on Saturday.

Even before the sexual harassment allegations made headlines, Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim, who says Cuomo threatened to destroy his career over his criticism of the nursing home deaths, wrote an op-ed for Newsweek on Feb. 22 titled “It’s Time to Impeach Andrew Cuomo.”

Contributing: Joseph Spector and Jon Campbell, USA TODAY Network’s New York State Team

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