© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cuomo's videotaped testimony is released as the former governor faces a new federal probe

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Kevin P. Coughlin
Office of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo is under federal investigation for sexual harassment allegations, according to attorney contracts filed with the State Comptroller's Office.

The news, first reported in the New York Post, comes after state Attorney General Letitia James released the recorded video of Cuomo’s testimony that resulted in her explosive August report that found Cuomo harassed 11 women.

In 11 hours of testimony recorded last July in the former governor’s New York City offices, Cuomo’s demeanor ranged from grudging cooperation to openly sparring with questioner Joon Kim.

Kim, the former acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was appointed by James to carry out the probe. He conducted the interview with employment attorney Anne Clark.

Cuomo, who resigned in August after the attorney general’s report was released, at times quibbled with Kim over definitions of words.

In one instance, Kim asked the former governor about a woman who was referred to in a complaint made by Cuomo accuser Lindsay Boylan.

Boylan testified that, among other acts of harassment, Cuomo instructed his top assistant to send Boylan a picture of an old flame of his and to tell Boylan that she could be that woman’s “better looking sister.”

“So my question was actually: Was she a girlfriend of yours?” Kim asked.

“She was a friend,” Cuomo answered. “How do you want to define 'girlfriend'?"

“Did you date her?” Kim asked.

“How do you want to define ‘date’?" Cuomo countered.

“How do you define 'date'?” Kim asked.

“But it doesn't matter how I define ‘date.’ How do you define ‘date’?” Cuomo persisted. “Because it's your question.”

Cuomo eventually said the woman was a friend who he did “see romantically for a period of time.”

The former governor said he did ask his secretary to tell Boylan to Google the woman, but he denied that he made comparisons between their looks.

The definition of dating was not the only exchange between Cuomo and Kim over the exact meaning of a common word.

Kim asked the former governor about allegations from several women that he inappropriately touched them on the buttocks, including former aide Brittany Commisso, who has said Cuomo grabbed her rear end when she asked him to take a selfie with her during a work visit to Cuomo’s office at the governor’s mansion.

“You don’t remember ever intentionally touching any woman on the butt?” Kim asked Cuomo.

“Right,” Cuomo answered.

“Does that include any area near the butt?” Kim asked.

Cuomo and his attorney Rita Glavin then asked for a more specific definition.

“Could you define near the butt?” Glavin asked.

“Do you understand where a human’s butt is, and anywhere near there?” Kim asked.

“Well, near the butt now becomes an expansive area,” Cuomo answered.

Cuomo eventually conceded that he may have touched women on the lower back when posing for a picture.

Commisso has made the most serious charges of all of the women who say they were harassed by the former governor. James also released Commisso’s videotaped testimony, where she described how Cuomo groped her under her shirt after she helped him fix a problem with his phone in his office at the governor’s mansion.

“I remember his hand just sliding right up my blouse," Commisso said. "And I remember looking down and I remember seeing his hand — which is, I would say, a large hand — and over my bra, and I remember looking down and being like … this just like went from zero to 60 in 0.2 seconds. It was so fast.”

She said she asked Cuomo to stop, saying, “We’re going to get in trouble,” but she said he instead slammed the door shut.

"I remember him shutting the door and coming back and saying, ‘I don't care,’” Commisso said. “And it wasn't like 'ha ha,' it was like ‘I don't care.’ It was like in this — at that moment, he was sexually driven.”

Commisso said she didn’t cry out or try to fight Cuomo off because she feared she would be the one viewed in the wrong, escorted out by State Police and fired.

Cuomo denies that the incident ever happened.

“At one point, there has to be a little reality. To touch a woman's breast who I hardly know, in the mansion, with 10 staff around, with my family in the mansion, to say, ‘I don't care who sees us’… I would have to lose my mind to do such a thing,” Cuomo said. “It would be an act of insanity to touch a woman's breast and make myself vulnerable to a woman for such an accusation.”

Commisso went to the police with her allegations, and the Albany County Sheriff issued a criminal complaint. Cuomo faces a court appearance on Jan. 7.

The former governor also addressed the accusations that he presided over a toxic workplace, where more junior staffers were bullied and he inappropriately had senior female staff members sit on his lap during business meetings. The governor did not deny that might have occurred during a social event with staff, but he could not recall any specific instances.

“If somebody were to sit on my lap, I wouldn’t push them off,” he said.

The former governor did not respond to the release of the videotaped testimony. His spokesman, Rich Azzopardi, impugned the attorney general’s motives for releasing the material, saying James is “abusing her government power to leverage her political future.”

James, who is running for governor, released the transcripts just before another candidate, Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi, entered the race. James has denied that politics is influencing her and has pointed out repeatedly that it was Cuomo who called for the probe in the first place.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.