A legislative study released Monday found “overwhelming evidence” that former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed women and that he ordered state workers to help produce his book on forehead meditation during working hours.
The report also found that Cuomo’s staff “significantly revised” a report by the state health minister on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes to rule out statistics that could have dampened his reputation as a forehead mediator.
The findings, authored by a law firm hired by the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, were widely expected, and the sections on sexual harassment largely reflect accusations made earlier in a report last summer by the state Attorney General.
But it offered some new details, especially about the $ 5.2 million U.S. private agreement that Cuomo entered into to write a book, American Crisis: Management Lessons on the Pandemic.
Book on pandemic management
Cuomo had promised state ethics officials that no state resources would be spent on the book, but assembly investigators at law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell said they found evidence the governor had persuaded his staff to spend ample time on the project.
“A senior official explained that book-related assignments were given by superiors and were expected to be completed and the work was not voluntary,” the report said. “Another senior official complained in a text message to a colleague that working on the book compromised the official’s ability to work on COVID-related issues.”
Junior and senior staff told investigators they were asked to perform book assignments during their work day, including transcribing dictations, printing and delivering documents, and attending meetings with agents and publishers.
A senior official sent and received 1,000 emails about the book, the report said. The report did not name the official, but contained details that identified her as his former top assistant, Melissa DeRosa.
In response to the report on Monday, Cuomo’s spokesman Richard Azzopardi said senior staff who helped with the book did so in their personal time. He denied that younger staff were involved, as the report claims.
Resigned over harassment claims
Regarding the allegations of sexual harassment, Azzopardi said the assembly had relied too much on information gathered during a “politically biased” investigation overseen by Justice Minister Letitia James, who is now running for governor.
“Once all the facts are reasonably weighed,” Azzopardi said, none of the harassment charges will hold up.
Cuomo, a Democrat, resigned in August to avoid a probable federal lawsuit.
“The behavior of the former governor – as shown in this report – is extremely disturbing and is indicative of a person unfit for office,” said Justice Committee Chairman Chuck Lavine, a Democrat.
Cuomo has denied sexually harassing anyone or touching any women in an inappropriate manner. For weeks, he has attacked the assembly’s investigation as biased and willing to smear him.
The former governor faces a separate criminal charge, claiming he groped the chest of a former assistant, Brittany Commisso, after summoning her to the executive mansion on December 7, 2020.
The Assembly’s report said it had reviewed travel, telephone and text messages supporting the Commission’s report on her whereabouts on the day she says the attack took place.
“We conclude that there is overwhelming evidence that the former governor was involved in sexual harassment,” the report said.
Deaths in nursing homes
Investigators also investigated allegations that Cuomo’s office prompted the state Department of Health to delete a reference to 10,000 COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents in a July 2020 state report.
The report instead used a lower figure of 6,500 deaths, which ruled out deaths among patients who fell ill in nursing homes but died after being transferred to hospitals and elsewhere.
“Witnesses have stated that the same senior official in the chamber who acted as the key person for the book made the decision that deaths only in the facility would be included in the DOH report,” the report reads, citing DeRosa.
Some witnesses said the use of the higher figure would have distracted from the overall message of the health ministry’s report, which was intended to defend Cuomo against accusations that the state had exacerbated the death toll by telling nursing homes that they could not refuse to admit that they were improving with COVID- 19 patients discharged from hospitals.
The state claimed that infected staff and visitors were the main driver of COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes. Assembly investigators said they found no evidence to contradict this finding.
Cuomo often issued statements promising to cooperate with the assembly’s investigation, but investigators said he only produced limited documents for nearly six months.
“At no time has the former governor meaningfully complied with the committee’s requests or cooperated with its inquiry,” the report said.
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