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Cuomo case provides a major #MeToo litmus test: Will a sitting governor face justice?

N.Y. AG documented legal violations but did not file charges against Cuomo, leaving political pressure as next remedy.

Updated: August 3, 2021 - 11:58pm

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The top law enforcement officer in New York has decisively concluded that Gov. Andrew Cuomo violated federal and state laws by serially sexually harassing subordinates. But state Attorney General Letitia James has not immediately initiated a prosecution of the governor, leaving the #MeToo movement with the task of finding a fitting punishment for a defiant politician accused of egregious behavior.

Democrats from President Joe Biden on down immediately took to the bully pulpit Tuesday, seeking to pressure one of the party's highest-profile governors to resign. Cuomo rebuffed the calls, insisting he was wrongly accused.

Meanwhile, the lack of immediate legal repercussions for Cuomo in the face of detailed evidence of sexual misconduct gave #MeToo activists and Republican critics alike an opening to question whether a dual system of justice had been exposed anew.

"It's just amazing how there's a different judicial standard in our country for liberal Democrats than there is for conservative Republicans," Rep. Dave Stuebe (R-Fla.) told Just the News. "Could you imagine if this was Trump? He would be in handcuffs right now being escorted through the judicial process and arrested for every single tiny violation of the law.

"But for Democrats, it's fine. We're just gonna say, 'Yeah, he violated the law, and then be silent as it relates to an indictment, or as it relates to any criminal activity,'" he continued. 

Tarana Burke, widely regarded as the founder of the #MeToo movement, expressed disbelief that Cuomo remains in office. She tweeted: "Real leaders know that their job is inherently about service. What the Attorney General's report shows is how much of a disservice Cuomo has been to the esteemed office of Governor. He should resign or be removed. Period." 

New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) called for the resignation of the governor, as she did when the plethora of accusations against him first bubbled to the surface. "It should be clear to everyone that he can no longer serve as Governor," she said.  

New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, third-ranking member of the U.S. House Republican leadership, called not just for Cuomo's resignation, but for his arrest. "No one is above the law and today justice must be served," she said. "Governor Cuomo must resign and be arrested immediately."

Cuomo's defiance came after a vivid and damning portrait of life and culture inside his administration and around the governor's mansion in Albany was painted by 179 witness interviews and tens of thousands of documents. They reported a hostile work environment that included bullying and intimidation of staffers. Accompanying most of the allegations of improper behavior are claims by Cuomo that he did not commit, or does not remember, the offenses of which he is being accused.  

One such section reads, "The Governor also testified that he did not recall ever singing any part of a song to Ms. Bennett, including 'Do You Love Me?' by the Contours, going so far as to say 'I don't even know that song.' However, a call that Ms. Bennett recorded for dictation purposes from October 4, 2019 begins with the Governor singing the chorus to that song several times to Ms. Bennett before beginning dictation." 

In effect, the report refutes Cuomo's multiple denials (gathered by investigators over the course of 11 hours of questioning) and grants the witnesses, victims, and parties to Cuomo's misdeeds final narrative control of the story.

James described the findings of the report as "a deeply disturbing, yet clear, picture." Because that picture involves, by her own admission, the violation of federal and state law, why there is no criminal indictment, or any specific penalties at all, tied to the 165-page report, remains a question. 

For every significant victory of the #MeToo movement against an offender — the likes of whom include Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, and many others — there have been cases where the accused — including the incumbent president — have escaped serious professional, political or criminal consequences  

It is not yet clear what fate awaits the governor in court. Hours after James' announcement, the Albany district attorney announced it is criminally investigating Cuomo. The DA plans to investigate materials sent over by the AG's office that detail the governor's alleged sexual harassment of 11 women.  

Cuomo is the sitting governor of one of the largest and richest states in the nation. In the 18 months since the outbreak of the pandemic, his fortunes have risen to the heavens and crashed back down to earth more dramatically than most would dare imagine.

Pending the possible commencement of legal action against Cuomo, the scathing report on his conduct compiled by his own attorney general presents the #MeToo movement with a definitive litmus test of its cultural, political, and moral seriousness. If Cuomo manages to remain in power, many will wonder: Has anything changed at all? 

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