Editor’s Note: Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former New York homicide prosecutor and counsel to the New York law firm of Edelman & Edelman PC, focusing on wrongful conviction and civil rights cases. Follow him on Twitter @paulcallan. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
In a dramatic news conference Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James claimed that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had engaged in shockingly inappropriate behavior, including alleged sex abuse, sexual harassment and the “bullying” of female state employees and others. And hours later, President Joe Biden called on the governor to resign.
In a news conference this morning, James characterized the governor’s behavior as indicative of a “hostile work environment,” created and perpetuated by Cuomo himself, in the highest echelons of New York state government.
One of the more graphic examples of gubernatorial misbehavior recounted by James came from “Executive Assistant #1” who told investigators that Cuomo had slid his hand up the woman’s blouse, “cup(ping her) breast over her bra,” leaving her in a state of “shock.” Executive Assistant #1 stated that she had never consented to nor anticipated such repulsive conduct by the governor.
“I remember thinking to myself who – I knew what just went on, I knew and he knew too that was wrong. And that I in no way, shape or form invited that nor did I ask for it. I didn’t want it. I feel like I was being taken advantage of …”
According to the report, Cuomo “denied having ever touched Executive Assistant #1’s breasts.” The claims made by Executive Assistant #1, if true, would not only be a form of civil sexual harassment under state and federal law but could also constitute the criminal offense of Sexual Abuse in the Third Degree under existing New York law (see New York Penal Law Section 130.55).
All of the details revealed by James were included in a 168-page report summarizing the results of an investigation that was requested by Cuomo himself. James, described by many Cuomo supporters as an aspirant to the governor’s job, readily accepted the assignment.
She retained the services of two attorneys, Anne L. Clark and Joon H. Kim, rather than employing one of the 700 lawyers on the attorney general’s payroll to conduct the investigation. Clark is a nationally known and respected lawyer specializing in employment law and sexual harassment cases while Joon is the former acting US attorney for the prestigious Southern District of New York. Given the investigation’s politically damaging revelations and conclusions, it appears that Cuomo may have commissioned his own political destruction.
The political implications of the claims against Cuomo are ominous. The New York Legislature is considering the possibility of impeachment but had deferred any action pending issuance of the attorney general’s report. After the report was issued, New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie stated that “the details provided by the victims are gut-wrenching.”
The speaker, who will exercise enormous influence in any Cuomo impeachment proceedings, also opined that, “The conduct by the governor outlined in this report would indicate someone who is not fit for office.” US Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand and many other influential political figures across the state are calling for Cuomo’s resignation.
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The allegations against Cuomo, if true, indicate that he ran the governor’s office like Don Draper ran his 1960s advertising agency in the TV show “Mad Men.” Cuomo appears to believe that he still lives in that age, but those days are long gone.
Women demand and deserve respect in the workplace and the law prohibits sexual harassment. Men who forget that, including powerful governors, do so at their own peril. If accurate, this is a lesson Gov. Andrew Cuomo is about to learn. And unlike “Mad Men,” there will be no reruns for Cuomo.