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NEW YORK (AP) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo faced mounting pressure on Tuesday to step down, including from President Joe Biden and other erstwhile Democratic allies, after an investigation found he had sexually harassed nearly a dozen women and worked to fight back against one of his accusers.
“I think he should resign” Biden told reporters on Tuesday, echoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and American New York senses Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, all Democrats.
The head of the state assembly, who has the power to lay impeachment charges, said it was clear Cuomo could no longer stay in office. President Carl Heastie, a Democrat, said he would initiate an impeachment inquiry “as quickly as possible.”
Cuomo remained defiant, saying in a recorded response to the findings that “The facts are very different from what has been described” and that he “never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”
In a phone conversation with Heastie, Cuomo insisted he would not step down and told the speaker he needed to work with his fellow Democrats and garner enough votes to stop an impeachment, according to someone familiar with the conversation.
But Heastie said he couldn’t, said the person, who was unable to publicly discuss details of the private conversation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The nearly five-month non-criminal investigation, overseen by the New York attorney general and led by two outside lawyers, found 11 women in state government and outside were telling the truth when they said that Cuomo had inappropriately touched them, commented on their appearance, or made suggestive comments about their sex lives.
Those accusers included an aide who said Cuomo groped his chest at the governor’s mansion, and a state trooper on his security details who said he ran his hand or fingers over his stomach and chest. back.
Anne Clark, who led the investigation with former US prosecutor Joon Kim, said the allegations were corroborated to varying degrees, including other witnesses and contemporary texts. Investigators interviewed 179 people, including the governor himself.
“These interviews and evidence revealed a deeply disturbing but clear picture: Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Many women have said they fear retaliation if they report Cuomo’s behavior, investigators said, describing his administration as a hostile place to work. “Plagued by fear and intimidation.”
On one occasion, the investigation found that Cuomo staff took action “Intended to discredit and denigrate” an accuser – Lindsey Boylan, the first former employee to publicly accuse her of wrongdoing – including leaking confidential personal files and writing a letter attacking her credibility.
The investigation’s findings, detailed in a 165-page public report, increase the pressure on the 63-year-old governor, who just a year ago was widely praised for his steadfast leadership during the darkest days of the COVID-19 crisis, even write a book about it.
Since then he has seen his position crumble with a drumbeat of harassment allegations, questions in a separate and ongoing investigation into whether state resources were used to write the book and the discovery. that his administration hid the real number of deaths in nursing homes during the pandemic.
Schumer and Gillibrand said Tuesday’s report only reinforced calls they and other New York Democrats made for Cuomo to step down after most of the allegations were made public in the winter. last.
“No elected representative is above the law. New Yorkers deserve better leadership in the governor’s office. We continue to believe that the governor should resign ”, they said in a joint statement.
While James concluded the investigation without returning the case to prosecutors for possible criminal charges, local authorities could use his evidence and findings to mount cases. Albany District Attorney David Soares said he would request documents from James’ office and urged victims to contact him.
Heastie said the investigation’s findings are crucial in speeding up the state assembly’s ongoing investigation into whether there are grounds for impeaching Cuomo, who has raised funds for a potential fourth term. . The Assembly has hired its own legal team to investigate a myriad of allegations regarding harassment, its book, nursing homes and special access to COVID-19 testing.
In her recorded response, Cuomo apologized to two accusers: Charlotte Bennett, who said the governor asked her if she was open to sex with an older man after confiding that she had been the victim of sexual assault, and a woman he kissed at a wedding. Cuomo said he was hiring an expert to reform sexual harassment training for state employees, including the governor.
But he denied other allegations as fabricated and castigated during the investigative process, saying they were fueled by “Politics and bias”. He explained that he had physically kissed people all his life, that his mother and father – former Governor Mario Cuomo – had done the same and that the gesture was aimed at “Transmit heat”.
Cuomo’s attorney refuted the investigation’s findings in writing, arguing in most cases that serious allegations, such as the alleged trial and error, had not occurred or that his actions had been misinterpreted.
“For those who take advantage of this moment to score political points or seek publicity or personal gain. I say they actually discredit the legitimate victims of sexual harassment that the law was designed to protect, ” Cuomo said.
Bennett called the governor’s apology “without meaning.”
“If he was sorry, he would withdraw. This is how responsibility works ”, she told the AP. “I don’t believe he will resign. I think it is the speaker’s job now to start the impeachment process.
The report detailed, for the first time, the allegations involving the state soldier. He said that besides touching her, Cuomo kissed her on the cheek, asked for her help finding a girlfriend, and asked why she wasn’t wearing a dress.
The report also included an allegation by a woman working for an energy company who said Cuomo touched his chest at an event, running his fingers over the letters on his shirt and reading the name aloud. of his company. According to the report, he then leaned over and said: “I’ll say I see a spider on your shoulder” before putting his hand between her shoulder and her breasts.
“These courageous women stepped forward to speak the truth to power and in doing so they expressed their faith in the belief that although the governor can be powerful, the truth is even more powerful,” Kim told reporters.
Cuomo faced several allegations, starting with Boylan, who said Cuomo kissed her on the lips after a meeting in his office and “would do everything possible to touch my lower back, arms and legs.”
After Boylan went public, Cuomo staff released media memos revealing that she left the administration after facing complaints she downplayed and yelled at her staff. Boylan said the leak was “an effort to get dirty.”
In an 11-hour interview with investigators last month, Cuomo admitted some behavior while denying other allegations, investigators said. For example, Clark said, he admitted to asking Bennett if she had been involved with older men and said he may have kissed the state soldier at an event, but denied having touched her.
Asked about an allegation he grabbed a woman’s breast at the Executive Mansion, according to the report, Cuomo replied: “I would have to lose my mind to do such a thing” to a woman he barely knew, with several staff around.
Cuomo has always denied inappropriate touching, but first said he was sorry if his behavior with women was “Misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation”. He has become more combative in recent months, claiming he had done nothing wrong and questioning the neutrality of the lawyers leading the investigation. Kim has been involved in previous corruption investigations by people in the Cuomo administration.
New York State regulations define sexual harassment as including unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature – from unwanted flirting to sexual jokes – that creates an offensive work environment, regardless of the abuser’s intent.
Cuomo championed a landmark 2019 state law that made it easier for victims of sexual harassment to prove their case in court. Alleged victims no longer have to meet the high bar to prove that sexual harassment is “Severe and intrusive. “