New York AG releases Cuomo, accusers' transcripts from harassment investigation
Several prosecutors asked documents not be released as they are weighing possible criminal charges against the former governor.
The New York State Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday released numerous documents from a five-month investigation into sexual harassment claims against former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including transcripts of interviews with the ex-governor and women who have accused him of the inappropriate conduct.
That investigation and the report it released in August led to Cuomo’s resignation later that month, although he strongly disputed the allegations. Cuomo, who also faced several other investigations for other alleged actions, stepped down because he said he did not want a near-certain impeachment trial in the state Senate to be a distraction as New York recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A statement from Attorney General Letitia James’ office announcing the release noted several prosecutors asked documents not be released as they were weighing possible criminal charges against the former governor.
Late last month, though, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department filed a criminal complaint against Cuomo, charging him with forcible touching, a sex crime and a Class A misdemeanor that could carry a nearly yearlong jail sentence if a jury found Cuomo guilty. The Albany County District Attorney notified the attorney general’s office it would release documents to Cuomo’s lawyers in accordance with the state’s discovery laws.
Cuomo is accused of groping the breast of Brittany Commisso, a former aide, while they were in the Executive Mansion last year. Commisso was one of the women who came forward to investigators, and law enforcement in Albany began a criminal investigation into the matter after her story became public.
James’ office “has informed local district attorneys that it will immediately begin releasing, on a rolling basis, all transcripts and corresponding exhibits compiled during the investigation, pending redactions to protect the privacy of individuals, as appropriate,” the statement read.
The interview with Cuomo took place July 17. That was 17 days before the investigation’s bombshell report came out. Not including breaks, he testified for nearly 11 hours that Saturday under questioning led by Joon Kim, one of the two outside lawyers James appointed to lead the independent investigation.
According to the 515-page transcript from the interview, Cuomo testified that Commisso began working for him during the COVID-19 pandemic. He added he did not know her well and had just a few interactions with her.
He first met her years ago when she was working as an aide to John Maggiore, a former Cuomo advisor. Cuomo denied taking any steps to have Commisso work for the executive chamber after Maggiore, now the commissioner for the state’s Department of Public Service, took a leave of absence.
Cuomo described Commisso as “friendly, affectionate” and “chatty” and admitted he was “warm” to her. In one encounter with her, Cuomo recalled talking about her ongoing divorce to someone “politically connected” whose father was an associate of the former governor.
“My understanding is that’s how she got her job,” Cuomo testified.
He later testified Commisso was “an affectionate hugger” and that he went along with it because he did not want her to “feel awkward.” While he could not specifically recall kissing her, “but I’m sure I did it.”
Later in the testimony, when he was asked if he ever touched Commisso’s breast, Cuomo repeated “that never happened” five times as he was questioned by Kim.
"Let’s just… you know, at one point there has to be a little reality,” Cuomo said. “To touch a woman’s breast who I hardly know, in the mansion, with 10 staff around, with my family in the mansion, to say ‘I don’t care who sees us.’
“You’ve investigated me for six years,” Cuomo continued in responding to Kim. “I would have to lose my mind to do some… such a thing. It would be an act of insanity to touch a woman’s breast and make myself vulnerable to a woman for such an accusation.”
Kim’s questioning said the alleged groping took place Nov. 16. The Albany County Sheriff’s investigation said it took place last December. Cuomo and his attorneys have hammered that point in responding to the allegations.
Commisso’s interview with the independent investigators took place in May via Zoom. Not counting breaks, her questioning took about five-and-a-half hours.
She testified that Cuomo began giving her hugs when she started working at the mansion. She said he would make sure to stand whenever she got ready to leave so he could give her a hug, and Commisso added she never saw him do that with other assistants.
In addition, there were a couple times starting in 2020 when he’d appear to kiss her on the cheek, only to turn his head and kiss her on the lips.
Commisso also told investigators about an incident at a New Year’s party on Dec. 31, 2019, when she said the then-governor grabbed her behind as they took a couple of selfies.
“It was the cheek,” she described. “I don’t know how else to say it.”
Commisso also testified that former Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi, among others, would talk in the State Capitol offices about their efforts to discredit Lindsey Boylan, the first former Cuomo staffer to make harassment allegations against him.
Commisso later testified that after Boylan went public with her story, the governor’s demeanor changed, to the point he stopped asking personal questions and became more distant.
In her testimony, she brought up the allegation of him groping her left breast over her bra. At that time, she said she could not remember the exact date but thought it was around Nov. 16 because that was when she was asked by another aide to take a picture of Cuomo’s driver’s license. She was then asked to go into his office at the mansion and take care of a message on his phone.
As she got ready to leave, Commisso said he stood up and walked around the desk. She told investigators that she knew a hug was coming.
“It wasn’t just going to be a casual hug, he really pulled me, and I remember his hand just sliding right up my blouse,” she said. “And I remember looking down, and I remember seeing his hand which is, I would say, a large hand and over my bra, and I remember looking down and being like, excuse my language, ‘holy s--t, this just like went from zero to 60 in .2 seconds.’ It was so fast.”
Cuomo was initially scheduled to be arraigned on the charge next week, but the Albany County District Attorney David Soares asked last week for an extension after he found deficiencies with the complaint. For example, he said the filing did not include a sworn statement from Commisso.
The sheriff’s office sent the complaint to the courthouse last month without conferring with Soares.
An Albany judge has since agreed to move the arraignment to January.
Cuomo, his attorneys and his supporters have lambasted the criminal charges against him and James’ handling of the harassment investigation as a political ploy. The day after news broke about the forcible touching charge, James announced her plans to run for governor next year.
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