By MARLENE LENTHANG, ABC News
(ALBANY, N.Y.) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is embroiled in the biggest scandal of his career following accusations from three women of inappropriate behavior.
Anna Ruch, 33; Lindsey Boylan, 36; and Charlotte Bennett, 25, have come forward over the past week to accuse the governor of unwanted advances over a time period from December 2016 to June 2020.
The allegations are only adding to Cuomo’s political woes as his administration is under investigation for its handling of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
His fall from public grace comes after he emerged early in the pandemic as a star among Democratic leaders for his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Dec. 13, 2020
Boylan, a former aide to Cuomo, was the first to accuse the governor of sexual harassment and kissing her against her will.
In December, she wrote a series of tweets sharing her allegations for the first time.
She tweeted, “Yes [Cuomo] sexually harassed me for years. Many saw it, and watched.”
“I could never anticipate what to expect: would I be grilled on my work (which was very good) or harassed about my looks,” she continued. “Or would it be both in the same conversation? This was the way for years.”
At the time, the governor denied the accusations.
“I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has,” Cuomo said in December. “But it’s just not true.”
Boylan expanded on the allegations in a Medium piece in which she accused Cuomo of acting inappropriately with her when she worked for the state’s economic development agency.
Boylan said she first encountered the governor in January 2016 and her boss at the economic development agency informed her Cuomo had a “crush” on her.
In October 2017, Boylan alleged that Cuomo invited her to play strip poker as they were on a government plane together.
One year later, Boylan said she was promoted to deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, a position she initially turned down “because I didn’t want to be near him.” She ultimately accepted following Cuomo’s insistence.
She also alleged that Cuomo kissed her on the lips without warning on one occasion in 2018 at his New York City office.
“As I got up to leave and walk toward an open door, he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips,” Boylan wrote. “I was in shock, but I kept walking.”
She resigned in September of that year.
“There is a part of me that will never forgive myself for being a victim for so long, for trying to ignore behavior that I knew was wrong,” Boylan said. “The Governor exploited my weaknesses, my desire to do good work and to be respected. I was made to believe this was the world I needed to survive in. … It was all so normalized … that only now do I realize how insidious his abuse was.”
When approached by The New York Times for comment on her claims, Cuomo’s press secretary, Caitlin Girouard, dismissed them as “quite simply false.”
Bennett came forward to share her account to the Times in a story published Feb. 27.
She accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, alleging he asked questions about her sex life.
Bennett, who was first hired by Cuomo’s administration in early 2019, worked as an executive assistant and health policy adviser until November when she left his office.
Bennett alleged that on June 5 she was alone with Cuomo in his state Capitol office when he allegedly asked her questions about her personal life that she interpreted as insinuating a sexual relationship.
He asked her if she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she ever had sex with older men.
In that June meeting, she said Cuomo made her uncomfortable when he allegedly complained about being lonely in the pandemic and said he “can’t even hug anyone” and asked, “Who did I last hug?”
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared.” Bennett told the Times. “And I was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
She shared what happened with Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, and was transferred less than a week later to another job within the administration in a different part of the Capitol. She gave a statement to a special counsel to the governor that same month.
In the end, Bennett said she decided against pushing an investigation because she liked her new job and “wanted to move on.”
In response to her allegations, Cuomo stated in a press release: “I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.”
Cuomo said Bennett was a “valued member” of his staff with “every right to speak out” and he disclosed that Bennett had spoken to him about being a survivor of sexual assault.
“The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported,” the statement added.
Bennett left state government in the fall and now lives and works in a neighboring state.
The same day Bennett’s account was published, the governor named former federal judge Barbara Jones to conduct a review of the claims. However, the move faced backlash and state leaders demanded an independent probe.
Cuomo bent to pressure and asked New York Attorney General Letitia James for a formal referral to create a special counsel with subpoena power to investigate the claims against him.
He issued a statement Sunday saying, “I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm.”
He added that some of his comments “may have been insensitive or too personal,” “made others feel in ways I never intended” and “have been misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation.”
“To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to,” he said.
That same day, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has clashed with the governor in the past, issued a statement denouncing Cuomo’s alleged behavior, saying, “the State legislature must immediately revoke the Governor’s emergency powers that overrule local control.” He called for two fully independent investigations into the personal misconduct allegations and deaths at nursing homes.
New York state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi also denounced the governor’s behavior, telling on ABC News his alleged behavior was “inappropriate.” She had called on the governor to resign on Feb. 27.
“It’s abusive and it scares people because it’s terrifying and the governor of New York should not be acting that way,” Biaggi said.
The New York Times published an account of alleged misconduct from Ruch. Unlike Boylan and Bennett, she did not work with Cuomo.
She met him at a wedding reception in New York City in September 2019 and alleged Cuomo placed his hands on her bare lower back and face and “asked if he could kiss her.” She also shared a photo of the alleged incident with the paper.
She said the incident left her “uncomfortable and embarrassed” and she felt she “didn’t have a choice in that matter.” Cuomo ended up kissing her on the cheek, according to Ruch.
James also announced on Monday that her office would begin an independent investigation, which included subpoena power, into allegations of sexual harassment against the governor. James’ office told ABC News Monday evening it read Ruch’s account in the Times and will decide whether to incorporate it into the just-launched investigation.
Rep. Kathleen Rice has become the first New York Democrat in Congress to join mounting calls for Cuomo to resign in wake of the allegations.
Six Democratic state lawmakers also called for Cuomo to be impeached.
In a statement shared with ABC News, the lawmakers said Cuomo used his power to “belittle, bully and harass his employees and colleagues” and impeachment proceedings “are the appropriate avenue” for accountability. It further states Cuomo’s withholding of information in regards to nursing home deaths is “sufficient to justify impeachment proceedings.”
The New York Attorney General’s Office opted to incorporate Ruch’s account into the ongoing investigation into Cuomo, a source familiar with the matter told ABC News.
The attorney general’s office will not limit the scope of the probe in case additional allegations surface. At the end of the investigation, a public report will be released.
By evening, the State Assembly and State Senate prepared a bill to curb Cuomo’s emergency powers granted during the pandemic. It will still allow Cuomo to extend existing emergency directives related to the pandemic, but repeal other emergency powers.
“The legislation introduced today will repeal the temporary emergency powers immediately, while allowing executive actions critical to public health to remain,” state officials said in a statement.
Karen Hinton, a former press aide to Cuomo, claimed he behaved inappropriately with her when she worked as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Her account was published by The Washington Post on March 6.
She claimed Cuomo, summoned her to his dimly lit hotel room in Los Angeles and told the Post he embraced her with a “too long, too tight, too intimate” hug after a work event in December 2000.
Hinton, who was married at the time, claimed she pulled away from Cuomo, “but he pulled her back toward his body,” according to the Post.
“I thought at that moment it could lead to a kiss, it could lead to other things, so I just pull away again, and I leave,” Hinton said to the Post.
Hinton’s second husband, Howard Glaser, worked for Cuomo at HUD. He served as a top deputy to Cuomo in the governor’s mansion for five years.
Also, on Saturday, a fifth woman, Ana Liss, who served as a policy and operations aide to Cuomo from 2013 to 2015, came forward with allegations against Cuomo that were published by The Wall Street Journal.
She said the governor asked her if she had a boyfriend, called her sweetheart, touched her on her lower back at a reception and once kissed her hand as she rose from her desk.
“It’s not appropriate, really, in any setting,” Liss said to the Journal.
Cuomo’s director of communications, Peter Ajemian, denied Hinton’s account to the Post, saying: “This did not happen. Karen Hinton is a known antagonist of the Governor’s who is attempting to take advantage of this moment to score cheap points with made up allegations from 21 years ago,” Ajemian said. “All women have the right to come forward and tell their story — however, it’s also the responsibility of the press to consider self-motivation. This is reckless.”
The Albany Times-Union reported that a sixth woman, a current member of the governor’s Executive Chamber staff, accused Cuomo of inappropriate conduct.
The staffer, who has not been named, accused the governor of inappropriately touching her late last year during an encounter at the governor’s mansion after she had been summoned there to do work.
She had not filed a formal complaint with the governor’s office. Her claims were recently reported to the governor’s counsel by other Executive Chamber employees, the Times-Union reported.
Cuomo said he was unaware of the sixth claim against him during a Tuesday call with reporters.
“I’m not aware of any other claim. As I said last week, this is very simple. I never touched anyone inappropriately. As I said last week I never made any inappropriate advances. No one ever told me at the time I made them feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said.
On Wednesday, he followed that up with a statement, saying, “As I said yesterday, I have never done anything like this. The details of this report are gut-wrenching. I am not going to speak to the specifics of this or any other allegation given the ongoing review, but I am confident in the result of the Attorney General’s report.”
New York state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Thursday that the Assembly Judiciary Committee would begin an impeachment investigation.
“After meeting with the Assembly Majority Conference today, I am authorizing the Assembly Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation, led by Chair Charles D. Lavine, to examine allegations of misconduct against Governor Cuomo,” Heastie said in a statement. “The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious. The committee will have the authority to interview witnesses, subpoena documents and evaluate evidence, as is allowed by the New York State Constitution.”
“I have the utmost faith that Assemblymember Lavine and the members of the committee will conduct an expeditious, full and thorough investigation,” he added. “This inquiry will not interfere with the independent investigation being conducted by Attorney General James.”
The investigation would be the first step in a bid to impeach the governor. But while the Assembly investigation may start the legislature down the path toward impeachment, it also has a stalling effect. It gives the Assembly speaker control of the process and staves off calls for an immediate resolution.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said the Assembly investigation will not conflict with the one her office is leading.
“Today’s action by the New York state legislature will have no bearing on our independent investigation into these allegations against Governor Cuomo. Our investigation will continue,” she said in a statement.
ABC News’ Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.
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