In New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoZeldin says he's in remission after treatment for leukemia Letitia James holding private talks on running for New York governor: report Governors brace for 2022 after year in pandemic spotlight MORE’s third inaugural address, delivered in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, the governor declared, “When they write the history books, and they ask us, 'Well, what did you do in the face of anger and division? What did you do when people were disillusioned?' Let New York's answer be that in that defining moment we brought healing and light and hope and progress and action.”
In the wake of today’s damning 165-page report released by New York Attorney General Letitia James, Cuomo has the ability to bring that “healing and light and hope” that he promised in his address, by resigning his office. In response to the attorney general’s report, the governor’s defiance in his recorded speech today, doubling down on the idea that the 11 women who have come forward are either lying or misremembering interactions, only further proves that Cuomo is unfit to serve one more day in public life.
The report itself paints a horrifying picture of an elected official, unbounded by any kind of societal norms or expectations and, in the report’s own words, “enabled” by some of the people he appointed and surrounded himself with in the governor’s office. Fortunately for New Yorkers, though, we live in a democratic republic where voters decide who represents them, and despite Cuomo’s three gubernatorial election successes, he is not the king of New York nor the emperor of Albany, serving indefinitely.
One of the more disturbing aspects of this independent investigation involves Charlotte Bennett, an aide to the governor who joined his office in January 2019. The following January, in a private conversation, Bennett told Cuomo that she herself had been the victim of sexual assault in college and that that “experience motivated her to work in politics.” According to the report, the governor went on to probe Bennett about the details of her attack, and would repeatedly bring her assault up in conversation, while pressing her with inappropriate questions and innuendo.
Equally troubling, the report found that Cuomo also appeared to have repeatedly assaulted a member of his protective detail, a New York State Trooper, tasked with ensuring his own personal safety. In accounts provided in the attorney general’s report, the trooper relayed multiple instances of both verbal harassment, that also escalated to unwanted touching, including kissing. The idea that any elected official would take advantage of his position to harass an individual responsible for his own security and wellbeing is beyond devastating and a clear indictment.
There must be only one set of rules for everyone in public life, especially once an independent investigation is carried out, evidence is presented, witness statements are sworn and a report like this one is conclusive. Americans by and large hate hypocrites in politics, nearly as much as they dislike political opportunists. As a lifelong Democrat, it was important for me personally and publicly to condemn Andrew Cuomo, just as it is equally important for my Republican friends to do the same with serial harassers on their side of the aisle. Back on March 15, I called publicly for the governor to resign. At that point, all the accusations had not been verified independently, but today’s report was decisive, comprehensive and overwhelming, with investigators speaking to 179 different individuals and reviewed more than 74,000 pieces of evidence. And as Attorney General James said in today’s press conference, that evidence painted a “deeply disturbing yet clear picture.”
In addition to that disturbing picture, the governor himself set forward a “Zero Tolerance Policy” back in 2013, when he tweeted, “There should be a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment & must send a clear message that this behavior is not tolerated.” What was true in 2013, is true now, and the governor must do the right thing and step aside.
Kevin Walling is a Democratic campaign strategist, Truman National Security Project partner, vice president at HGCreative and a regular guest on Fox News, Fox Business and Bloomberg TV + Radio. Follow him on Twitter @kevinpwalling.