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Biden calls on Cuomo to resign after sexual harassment findings

New York State Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexually harassing multiple women, sparking a cascade of calls for his resignation, including from President Biden. Cuomo denied the claims. New York State Public Radio's Karen DeWitt joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have two big stories leading tonight: The Biden administration moves to help renters in targeted areas facing eviction, after a national ban on evictions expired. We will look at what that means in a moment.

    But, first, we turn our focus to New York, where the state's attorney general accuses Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexually harassing multiple women. It has sparked a cascade of calls for his resignation, including from President Biden this afternoon, and expedited an impeachment investigation.

  • Letitia James:

    The independent investigation has concluded that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and, in doing so, violated federal and state law.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was the New York state attorney general, Democrat Letitia James, who announced the damning findings.

    Her investigators today published a 165-page report, which concluded that Governor Cuomo did sexually harass a number of current and former New York state employees. The report says Cuomo did so through unwelcome and non-consensual touching and by making offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature.

    It also says that Cuomo's conduct extended to members of the public.

  • Letitia James:

    This investigation has revealed conduct that corrodes the very fabric and character of our state government and shines light on injustice that can be present at the highest levels of government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Investigators wrote about Cuomo's conduct toward 11 women, and included some episodes that had not been reported previously, including the harassment of a state trooper assigned to his security detail.

    The instances of non-consensual touching included unwanted hugs and kisses, but also the groping of women's buttocks and breasts.

    Employment attorney Anne Clark is one of the attorney general's lead investigators.

  • Anne Clark:

    We found all 11 women to be credible. There was corroboration to varying degrees.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another investigator, Joon Kim, spoke to their findings about the toxic work environment around the governor.

  • Joon Kim:

    The executive chamber's culture of fear and flirtation, intimidation and intimacy, abuse and affection created a work environment ripe for harassment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In a video message today, Cuomo argued that he has long had a habit of giving other people hugs and kisses, but responded this way to the report's findings about groping and inappropriate comments.

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY):

    I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances. I am 63 years old. I have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Still, reaction from other New York political leaders was swift. The state's two U.S. senators, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, reiterated their calls on Cuomo to resign.

    Before today, President Biden had said that he too would call for Cuomo's resignation if the attorney general's investigation confirmed the allegations against Cuomo. Mr. Biden weighed in late today.

    JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: I think he should resign. I understand that the state legislature may decide to impeach. I don't know that for a fact.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Cuomo is also the subject of an impeachment investigation in the state assembly over this and other scandals.

    Attorney General James pledged today to provide the assembly with any relevant evidence from her investigation.

    And we turn now to Karen DeWitt. She is New York State Public Radio's Capitol bureau chief in Albany.

    Karen DeWitt, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Just how compelling…

  • Karen DeWitt, New York State Public Radio:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Absolutely.

    How compelling is the evidence that the attorney general presents in this report?

  • Karen DeWitt:

    Well, I found all of these allegations pretty compelling.

    And most of them, we knew about when they first became public late in March. I covered them. I talked to some of the women. But I have to say, all in one place, the way this report put them out, it was deeply shocking to see all of these allegations that were pretty well-corroborated.

    And one really struck me was — and I think because it was new, we hadn't heard of it — was this incidence of the state trooper. She was pulled out of the ranks by Cuomo, chosen to be his bodyguard. Usually, the superintendent of the state police does that, so that was highly unusual.

    And then, according to the report, she was subjected to inappropriate touching, questions from him about advice on getting a girlfriend, asking her, why wasn't she wearing a dress?

    And I think all of that combined was really very devastating.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you said that much of it is corroborated. So there's evidence in terms of what other people said to back up these allegations?

  • Karen DeWitt:

    Yes.

    Well, I know, in this highly politicized environment, people might say, well, the attorney general, she's just saying this. But they had thousands of pages of documents, e-mails, text, photos, and, in many cases, they had corroborating witnesses. In the case of the state trooper, There were corroborating witnesses of other troopers.

    So they definitely did a very solid job of backing up all of these allegations and saying that…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Karen…

  • Karen DeWitt:

    And concluding that they believed them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Karen DeWitt, Governor Cuomo came back with a prerecorded statement, in which he very vociferously denied all this, said that he learned to hug and kiss people from his parents, it's the way he's been as a politician all his life.

    How much of — how does all that square with what the attorney general is saying?

  • Karen DeWitt:

    Well, it does seem at odds.

    But I think Governor Cuomo is hoping that the public still sees him as — just a little over a year ago, remember, he was on television every day as sort of the de facto leader of the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the first big wave of the pandemic.

    And I think what he's saying to people is, that's the real me. You saw me on television every day. I am not this guy. I am not a serial sexual harasser.

    And I think that was what he was trying to convey with this pretaped message.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, tell us where this goes from here.

    This report, with all this damning information from the attorney general, what happens next?

  • Karen DeWitt:

    Well, I think it goes without saying, from what the governor said, he is not resigning. He says he still has a lot of work to do.

    But there is an Assembly impeachment inquiry happening. And, late today, the Assembly speaker said that is going to be expedited. The Assembly speaker, who previously did not call on Cuomo to resign, is now saying he has lost confidence in Cuomo and Cuomo is not fit to be in office.

    Also, the Albany County DA, David Soares, announced late today that they're — in fact, he confirmed that there's an ongoing criminal investigation. And he's asking victims to come forward.

    So, if that were to come to fruition, the governor were to be indicted, I think that would be more very serious trouble for him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you have a sense of which one of these processes would move more quickly? I mean, are we looking at something that's going to take months and months, or what? What do you hear?

  • Karen DeWitt:

    I think it's going to be sooner than later.

    It seemed like, after the first allegations came out, things were dragging. But now things, I think, are going to go at pretty lightning speed here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does he have defenders?

  • Karen DeWitt:

    Well, his family so far has defended him, as one would hope that your family would.

    But nobody immediately comes to mind right now who is defending him, frankly. So he's really all alone on this issue. And, in some ways, I think he's trying to turn that on its head and say, look, if all the elected officials are against me, hey, I must be doing something right.

    He's also said: I'm a victim of cancel culture.

    So he might be able to turn around the fact that he's really all alone right now on this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, watching it very closely, Karen DeWitt, New York State Public Radio, the Capitol bureau chief.

    Karen, thank you very much.

  • Karen DeWitt:

    You're welcome.

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