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Sexual Harassment Charges Against Gov. Cuomo Are Detailed In Scathing 165-Page Report

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A scathing report from the New York state attorney general's office has found that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women. All but two are current or former state employees. President Biden is calling on Cuomo to resign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: What I said was the attorney general concluded that the allegations were correct, that - back in March that I would recommend he resign. That's what I'm doing today. I've not read the report. I don't know the detail of it. All I know is the end result.

SHAPIRO: The governor is denying wrongdoing and apologizing for what he says were innocent misunderstandings. NPR's Quil Lawrence is following the story and joins us from New York.

Hi, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This report is 165 pages long. What new details does it contain?

LAWRENCE: It's an exhaustive report - nearly 200 interviews, thousands of documents, texts, photos corroborating these stories done by two outside attorneys who are well-known in New York. The report says the governor groped women, including one of the state troopers assigned to protect him - that was new information - and that he'd made a wide range of inappropriate comments to female staff about their sex lives, about his sex life, asking younger staff if they would be open to sex with an older man. Nine of them were former or current employees, as you said. Two were - the other two were a guest at a wedding and an energy company representative.

The report found that his office also drafted a letter to discredit one of his accusers after she went public, and the staff decided it was just poor strategy to smear someone who was claiming sexual harassment. Attorney General Letitia James said the governor's office was a toxic, hostile place, particularly for women, and that several of them felt forced to leave.

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LETITIA JAMES: What this investigation revealed was a disturbing pattern of conduct by the governor of the great state of New York and those who basically did not put in place any protocols or procedures to protect these young women. I believe women, and I believe these 11 women.

SHAPIRO: So talk to us about the governor's response. His own lawyer released an 85-page, point-by-point rebuttal of the charges. What did Cuomo say today?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. He gave a very smooth, calmly delivered video. He apologized for what he said were innocent, maybe old-fashioned gestures like kissing someone on the forehead or a comment in Italian like, ciao, bella. He said maybe he told bad jokes sometimes, but he categorically denied any groping or harassment. He said in the cases where he may be sued, he welcomes a fair hearing before a judge and jury. And he suggested that the report was biased and sensational.

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ANDREW CUOMO: Trial by newspaper or biased reviews are not the way to find the facts in this matter. I welcome the opportunity for a full and fair review before a judge and a jury because this just did not happen.

LAWRENCE: Cuomo did say that he would revamp his own office's sexual harassment training and that he would take that training himself. But he gave no indication that he plans to leave office early. He said that there's still a lot of important work for him to do.

SHAPIRO: Is there any chance of a criminal prosecution?

LAWRENCE: Yes. Well, the attorney general is not referring criminal charges, she said. But there are plenty of local and state authorities that might, and they would have all of this ammunition from this report to do that with. Lawyers for several of the named plaintiffs, the women who allege harassment, have said that he's unfit, that he should resign. But it remains to see how many civil cases are going to arise, how many court cases there'll be.

SHAPIRO: So with all of these prominent voices, including the president, calling on him to resign, there's a push for impeachment. How does Cuomo stay in office? Does he have any political future?

LAWRENCE: Well, yeah. I mean, President Biden's remarks, which came late this afternoon just a few hours after Cuomo's reaction - I would expect those carry a lot of weight. But there were also just condemnations from a lot of people who have been calling for his resignation in the past - New York senators, New York City's mayor Bill de Blasio, who has a terrible relationship with Cuomo, and a few new voices. But it is pretty strong ammunition for a possible impeachment to have this blistering report prepared by your own attorney general. Cuomo had been talking about possibly running for a fourth term, and at least that, at this moment, looks very shaky as he comes under scrutiny for this and also his handling of the pandemic last year.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence in New York.

Thank you, Quil.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMOCK'S "SCATTERING LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.