Andrew Cuomo's goons
The attorney general's report makes it clear how much the governor has relied on aides and advisers to enable his behavior
On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Tish James published a bombshell report on her office's investigation into sexual harassment allegations leveled against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The investigators conclude "that the governor engaged in conduct constituting sexual harassment under federal and New York state law," and present evidence regarding 11 different accusers.
The report is utterly devastating and should spell the end of Cuomo's political career. As I have previously written, Cuomo is not just a sexual harasser — he is also an appallingly inept and corrupt leader whose horrible policy decisions led directly to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of New Yorkers. Many top Democrats have already called for Cuomo to resign.
This is good and correct. But another thing made clear in James' report that should not be lost is the large number of corrupt goons who worked in Cuomo's office, aiding and abetting his abuses. These accomplices, who are all too common in professional Democratic circles, should face accountability as well.
The report goes into detail about how Cuomo created a horribly toxic culture around his office, and argues persuasively that this was a key factor in why he was able to get away with what he did for so long. The investigators write that the Executive Chamber (the governor's office) was "rife with fear and intimidation and accompanied by a consistent overlooking of inappropriate flirtations and other sexually suggestive and gender-based comments by the governor," which enabled harassment because victims rightly feared retaliation if they said anything. "Several state employees, including those outside of the Executive Chamber, told us that they believed their careers in New York state government would be over if they were to cross the governor or senior staff, including by reporting any misconduct," they write.
For instance, Charlotte Bennett, a former aide and one of Cuomo's alleged victims, said the office "was controlled largely by his temper, and he was surrounded by people who enabled his behavior[.]" A woman anonymized as Executive Assistant #1, who alleges that Cuomo harassed her and groped her breast, "repeatedly testified that she felt she had to tolerate the governor's physical advances and suggestive comments because she feared the repercussions if she did not."
Another woman called Trooper #1 in the report was added to the governor's security detail seemingly because Cuomo thought she was attractive, even though she didn't meet the qualification requirements at the time. This allegedly led to harassment and unwanted touching on her belly, which she hesitated to report in part because when she mentioned previous inappropriate sexual comments from the governor to the commander of the security detail, he replied the conversation "stays in truck" — which she took to mean she should not mention it again.
Every other victim spoke of similar worries — and these fears of retaliation were justified.
When Lindsey Boylan wrote on Twitter in December 2020 that Cuomo was an abusive boss, Cuomo's top aide Melissa DeRosa asked Alphonso David (previously the chief lawyer in Cuomo's office and now the president of the Human Rights Campaign) for dirt. David thus gave Cuomo aide Rich Azzopardi confidential legal documents regarding Boylan's time working for Cuomo. Then, when Boylan wrote a few days later that she had been sexually harassed, Azzopardi used Wite-Out to hide the names of everyone but Boylan on the documents and sent them to various reporters, arguing that they contradicted her account. Cuomo's team then drafted an op-ed smearing Boylan, though they ultimately decided against publishing it. (The investigators conclude that this behavior constituted criminal retaliation.)
A few months later, as additional accusers stepped forward and the scandal gained steam, DeRosa contacted Larry Schwartz, who was in charge of the state's vaccine distribution at the time, and told him to suss out where county executives stood on Cuomo staying in office. One executive later said that he interpreted the call to "contain an implicit threat linking access to vaccines … with County Executive #1's position on the allegations regarding the Governor." Schwartz denied he meant anything by these calls, and two other executives said they did not feel threatened, but it simply beggars belief that Schwartz and DeRosa didn't realize how those calls might sound. Why else would someone in charge of vaccines make that call?
Meanwhile, a large team of political operatives held regular meetings to figure out how they might best make the scandal go away, including DeRosa, Azzopardi, the head of New York's Department of Financial Services, Linda Lacewell, special counsel Judy Mogul, former Pete Buttigeig adviser Lis Smith, Cuomo's comms guy Peter Ajemian, the governor's brother and CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, plus numerous other aides-de-camp.
As it turns out, the best you could hope for working in Cuomoland was a complaint being buried instead of ruining your career. When Bennett reported her harassment to higher-ups, Cuomo's chief of staff Jill DesRosiers and Mogul (who also informed DeRosa) found the allegations "credible," but — contrary to legal requirements — did not file a harassment notice or conduct an investigation. Instead they moved her to another department, away from the governor.
Elsewhere, DeRosa cynically exploited feminist tropes to bury the story about Trooper #1. When Albany Times-Union reporters got wind of the story, she dishonestly accused them of sexism: "You guys are trying to reduce her hiring to being about looks. That's what men do." The story indeed did not run.
Now, Cuomo certainly bears responsibility for what he did personally — and it would not be surprising if some of his numerous female apparatchiks (who Cuomo seems to hire as part of a strategy of deflecting accusations of sexism) have also been harassed, which the report implies probably happened. Yet it's also not surprising that he managed to round up a bunch of cynical, ruthless careerists who would indulge his depraved whims.
Ultimately, these aides are complicit in what happened. It is wrong to participate in a culture of sexual predation, or to try to hide sexual assault accusations, or to retaliate against victims for speaking up. Cuomo's goons are people who made a conscious, deliberate decision to serve as thuggish enforcers for an abusive bully who is one of the worst governors in New York history, and they did it to protect their own power and advance their own political careers.
DeRosa in particular has long been known as exceptionally unscrupulous even by Cuomo standards, and up until his behavior began coming to light was thought to have a bright future in New York politics. Smith was prominent in one quite successful (and baldly cynical) presidential race, and is well-connected to Democratic Party elites like former Obama adviser David Axelrod. David, as mentioned above, now runs one of the most prominent supposedly-progressive political organizations in the country. Chris Cuomo has already skated once on his wildly unethical collusion with his brother, and if history is any guide CNN will probably let him slide again and keep his show.
Utter disgrace is not good enough for any of them.