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New York’s governor under fire with new allegations about his personal conduct

His national profile soared last year, drawing praise for his leadership in New York state during the first months of the pandemic. Now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is under fire, facing allegations not just about his administration's handling of coronavirus data but also new allegations concerning his personal conduct. New York Times Albany Bureau Chief Jesse McKinley joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York is now facing controversy on two fronts, his handling of the pandemic and new allegations of sexual harassment.

    John Yang begins there.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, New York State Attorney General Letitia James formally announced today she's hiring a special deputy to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations against Governor Cuomo.

    This comes after a second female staffer told The New York Times of what she calls Cuomo's predatory behavior. Earlier, a different former staffer accused the governor of sexually harassing her.

    Jesse McKinley is the Albany bureau chief for The New York Times. He joins us now.

    Jesse, thanks so much for being with us.

    You interviewed both these women. What did they tell you that the governor did?

  • Jesse McKinley:

    Well, in each case, it is different.

    But in Lindsey Boylan's case, who was the first woman to come forward last week, she alleged that the governor had harassed her on several occasions between 2016 and 2018, leading up to a kiss in his Manhattan office, which was kind of the culmination of a couple of years of behavior by the governor.

    In the case of Charlotte Bennett, this was a more detailed description that we got from her of the governor basically calling her into his office and doing some work, and then the conversation really turning to kind of an uncomfortable terrain, where the governor was asking her, her opinions on monogamy, whether or not she slept with older men, whether or not she thought that age differences were a problem in relationships, all of which led Ms. Bennett to believe that the governor basically was propositioning her.

  • John Yang:

    And the governor's response to this has evolved from the first allegation. How has it changed over time?

  • Jesse McKinley:

    Well, in the case of Lindsey Boylan, he simply said it wasn't true.

    In the case of Charlotte Bennett, he basically said that this was a mentor relationship, that perhaps she misunderstood. That was his first reaction.

    Then, last night, Sunday night, he came up with a more kind of an elaborate statement, in which he said: Look, I have been known to tease people. I have been known to kid around the office. Perhaps these remarks were misconstrued. I do apologize, if they were misunderstood.

    And then Charlotte Bennett herself came out today, Monday afternoon, and rejected that wholeheartedly, said, basically, the governor was engaging in predatory behavior, calling on other women who've experienced this to step forward, and basically saying that his behavior fits a perfect stereotype of someone who sexually harasses women.

  • John Yang:

    And he's also changed about what he was sort of willing to have the investigation look like.

  • Jesse McKinley:

    At first, I think Governor Cuomo had hoped to kind of control this investigation by appointing someone with close ties to a former top aide of his.

    That was rejected wholeheartedly. So, then he pivoted and tried to get Letitia James to kind of co-sponsor an investigation with another ally of his. That was also rejected. And, finally, he relented and is allowing Letitia James, the state attorney general, to lead this investigation, to appoint an investigator, presumably with subpoena power, which is a pretty big stick in an investigation.

    That means that Letitia James' choice will be able to compel witness testimony, get things under oath, and get documents and perhaps recordings.

  • John Yang:

    A little less than a year ago, the governor's response to the pandemic was being praised. There were even some people talking about him as the Democratic presidential nominee.

    And now there's an investigation into what appears to be underreporting of nursing home deaths and now these allegations. He's about to come to the point where he's got to make a decision of whether he's going to run for a fourth term. What's all this done to his political standing?

  • Jesse McKinley:

    Well, it has not been a good couple of months. Let's put it that way.

    I think that most people assumed that he would kind of roll to a fourth term next year in 2022. Now that is a much more rocky path. Some people here in Albany and elsewhere have been talking resignation. That is something that obviously the governor would resist.

    He has said, essentially, that he wants to continue serving and serving the people of New York. But if more allegations arise, or if these allegations are not answered satisfactorily, I think that his position, his career could be in jeopardy.

  • John Yang:

    Jesse McKinley, Albany bureau chief for The New York Times, thank you very much.

  • Jesse McKinley:

    Of course, John.

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