New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday said he will resign after the state's attorney general last week released a scathing probe that found he sexually harassed at least 11 women. He will be replaced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will become the first woman to lead the state. Jodi Kantor, of The New York Times, and Karen Dewitt, of New York State Public Radio, join William Brangham to discuss.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is out. His decision to resign comes a week after the state's attorney general published a scathing investigation. It found Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women, including a number of current and former state employees.
Until this morning, the governor had apologized for making any women feel uncomfortable, but remained defiant in the face of a pending impeachment inquiry and near-unanimous calls to step down. While he said today that his instinct was to keep fighting what he called a politically motivated and unfair investigation, he said doing so would divert focus from the state's pandemic response.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: It is a matter of life and death government operations, and wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state governments should be doing. And I cannot be the cause of that. I think that, given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing.
In two weeks, Cuomo will formally leave office. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will succeed him. She'll be the first woman to lead the Empire State.
To discuss all this, I'm joined by Jodi Kantor of "The New York Times." Her reporting on Harvey Weinstein helped usher in the #metoo movement. And, Karen DeWitt, she's Albany bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, where she's been covering Governor Cuomo closely.
Thank you both for being here tonight.
Karen DeWitt, to you first, I wonder if you could give us a sense. Was this surprise? I mean, I watched Cuomo's lawyer and her presentation before he made this announcement and I thought, surely this fight is going to go on. I heard Cuomo at the initial part of his presentation and I thought, he's going to continue fighting and then the surprise came.
Were you surprised by this?
You know, actually, I was. I mean, we knew that he couldn't win this political fight, and I think it was in the moment of his speech where he said, well, you all know me as a fighter, and I thought, uh-oh, there's going to be a pivot here, and, of course, there was, but he essentially said, I can't win this fight.
I really thought that he would wait until the eve of when the assembly was going to draw up articles of impeachment, which they seemed on that road, and to try to make some kind of face-saving deal. But the assembly speaker on Monday said there isn't going to be any deals, absolutely not, and I think that the governor really, at that point, saw that there was no exit and this would be the best time to leave rather than really face, you know, months and weeks of legal wrangling and just the relentless negative news cycles.
Jodi Kantor, the argument the governor made, you said this is biased and unfair, but he also seemed to make this argument you hear from men of a certain generation which is — my behavior was misinterpreted, I didn't mean anything by it, I'm a huggy, kissy, old fashioned kind of guy and that surely everyone misread these signals.
In this era, does that argument hold any water in light of these allegations?
Well, to answer your question, I want to turn the page back a few years to the fall of 2017. After the allegations against Harvey Weinstein came out, Governor Cuomo made a series of unequivocal statements over that fall, the following months, the following year about protecting the women of New York from this kind of behavior.
He said things like the page has turned, this is no longer acceptable, we have to work together to do better. Now, what we now know, thanks to the report, is very significant about that timing is that not only were we at the kind of high tide of #metoo, but that, behind the scenes, the governor was allegedly targeting these women in August of 2019. On one day, he signed legislation women had wanted for years, really serious sexual harassment protections into law, and the next day, according to the report, he allegedly targeted the streak that continued his targeting, the state trooper.
So, I think — you know, I think, given that he himself said that it was a new era, given that he himself appears to have contradicted the message of leadership he was sending from the highest office in the state, it's very hard to know what to make of this excuse of, you know, things have changed, I'm an old fashioned guy, I should have known better.
And, Karen DeWitt, as Jodi is pointing out, he was to many progressives in New York a real ally on marriage equality, on abortion, and reproductive rights. And so, was this seeming to most New Yorkers to be a revelation that he actually turned out to be actually a predator behind the mansion of — the governor's mansion?
Well, you know, I still think it is a little bit generational. I certainly talk to older people that say, yeah, I witnessed events people like this, you know, people behaving this way, it's not great, but these things happen, it's not a crime, he said he was sorry, let's move on. I don't think, unfortunately, people know all of the details as Jodi and I do of how he seems very hypocritical when he signed a law, you know, with strong anti-sexual harassment measures.
But, you know, the younger people, they're not putting up with it, and they're the ones who are going to lead this country, lead New York, and, you know, whose opinion counts, and they find it completely unacceptable the things that were in the attorney general's report, what he did.
Jodi Kantor, I want to read a little bit of a statement from a lawyer that represents two accusers. This is from Mariann Wang.
She writes in part: My clients feel both vindicated and relieved that Cuomo will no longer be in a position of power over anyone. They feel in solidarity with all women who continue to be abused by men in power. At least today, one of them has faced some consequences.
You have reported on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases nationwide including for many senior figures and popular figures like this.
Does that statement echo the same thing that you have heart from other victims that, as awful as what they allegedly went through, having the governor resign and step down is a moment of indication for them?
Well, what we've seen, again and again, with #metoo is accountability is the engine, because women come forward — are more likely to come forward when they believe that something of consequence will happen. Coming forward is a huge risk. It's really hard. It's still remarkable to look at history in retrospect and see that this might have all still stayed secret had Lindsey Boylan, the first accuser, not tweeted when she did.
And so, I think seeing that other people care, that state lawmakers recognize what was happening, that the attorney general did this really thorough report and that, finally, Cuomo had to resign means a lot. Then, also to your point about the discussion about this behavior and how bad it was, it's very significant that this scandal is not about sexual violence. Nobody is saying, God forbid, the governor threw me against a wall, you know, did some thing that could land him in jail for many years on end, et cetera, et cetera, it's about sexual harassment.
And that's about the workplace and it's about young women in the workplace and the fact that these were in large part if governor's own employees and a state trooper who was sworn to protect him, and whether they could just do their jobs unimpeded.
Karen DeWitt, the governor said, in two weeks, he will be formally stepping down as governor, but he's not out of the woods totally, right? There's the possibility of criminal charges being brought, is that right?
Yes, that's right. I mean, just because he's leaving doesn't mean that he can leave this all behind. The Albany County sheriff is investigating a criminal complaint brought by Brittany Commisso who appeared on CBS News yesterday and was executive assistant number one in the report saying that the governor sexual assaulted her. At least four other district attorneys around the state are looking at potential criminal charges.
Don't forget, there's also a federal investigation ongoing about how the governor handled nursing home policy and whether he and top aides concealed the true number of residents who died during the pandemic. And also, he's being investigated for his $5 million book deal, whether he inappropriately, improperly used staff to help him write and edit it. So there could be criminal charges, there's probably certainly going to be civil lawsuits, I believe at least one has already been brought.
So this isn't going to go away for him just because he leaves office, by I don't think he's going to be the center of attention anymore, and that takes some of the heat off of him.
Jodi Kantor, last question to you. We have seen so many of these major figures be snared in these allegations and have to face the consequences and we keep saying surely this will be the last one, surely people will reckon with their behavior and knock it off, in essence.
Do you have any sense that this is the kind of event that lets people elsewhere in the world recognize that, finally, we have to stop behaving like this?
Well, I don't think that — I'm not sure how many people really thought that #metoo or the Harvey Weinstein story or any of the other big stories meant the end of this behavior. In some ways, it means that we're going to find out about it more because part of what #metoo means is that women may be more willing to come forward.
And, so, you know, part of what you always have to think about at a moment like this is what don't we know, right? We can't address problems that we can't see. And, so, the fact that these women came forward successfully, the fact that the governor resigned may just lead to the next chapter of #metoo.
Jodi Kantor and Karen DeWitt, thank you both for joining us.
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