September 29, 2021

Gov. Cuomo Resigns After Sexual Harassment Probe; Critic Says He Is “Still Gaslighting New Yorkers”

8 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced he’s resigning, following the recent release of a devastating report from the New York Attorney General’s Office, which found the three-term Democrat sexually harassed at least 11 women in violation of state and federal law. New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take over in two weeks, becoming New York’s first woman governor. Cuomo made the announcement Tuesday afternoon as state lawmakers were moving forward on starting impeachment proceedings against him.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: “New York tough” means New York loving. And I love New York. And I love you. And everything I have ever done has been motivated by that love. And I would never want to be unhelpful in any way. And 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. And therefore, that’s what I’ll do.

AMY GOODMAN: During his resignation speech, Governor Cuomo denied all the allegations and continued to defend his actions.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: I take full responsibility for my actions. I have been too familiar with people. My sense of humor can be insensitive and off-putting. I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life. It’s who I’ve been since I can remember. In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone. But I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn. There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate. And I should have. No excuses.

AMY GOODMAN: One of Cuomo’s accusers, former aide Lindsey Boylan, responded by saying, quote, “From the beginning, I simply asked that the Governor stop his abusive behavior. It became abundantly clear he was unable to do that, instead attacking and blaming victims until the end. It is a tragedy that so many stood by and watched these abuses happen,” she said.
Governor Cuomo had faced mounting calls to resign for months over the sexual harassment allegations, as well as his cover-up of thousands of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes.
We’re joined now by two guests. Zephyr Teachout is a professor of law at Fordham University who ran against Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2014. We are also joined by Democratic Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who first called on Cuomo to resign in February. She was one of the first.
Democratic Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, thanks for joining us once again on Democracy Now! Respond to Governor Cuomo’s resignation yesterday. And now, again, this doesn’t go into effect — this has been sort of unexplained, why he wants two weeks, but for 14 days.
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: Yeah, well, I mean, I don’t believe that it’s a shock to us that he also still wants to control the narrative, control the timeline, control everything. Governor Cuomo is still gaslighting New Yorkers. He had his lawyer — that the state is actually paying for — come out and defend him again on a state platform, basically telling these women that they were imagining it, that they were not harmed by the governor. And then he continued to say things, just like the clip that you played, that “I didn’t know where the line had — that the line had been redrawn,” and, you know, all of these different things that continued to basically dismiss the fact that women do know when men are mistreating them.
And then, at the end, he addressed the Legislature and tried to say that it would be costly to the state and painful for the state to proceed with impeachment proceedings, because he doesn’t want us to actually hold him accountable. Governor Cuomo basically told New Yorkers in his remarks that in exchange for resigning, he’d like the Assembly to not impeach him and not investigate his conduct any further. This is gaslighting all New Yorkers. Impeaching him isn’t what is costly; actually, not impeaching him is what is costly.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Assemblywoman, in terms of this issue of what happens now with the impeachment proceedings, because there has been some speculation that the governor and some of his remaining few supporters would like to see him possibly have a comeback later, and if he was impeached, obviously, he could not come back to run for office again, so I’m wondering what your sense is in terms of whether the Assembly will move forward, now that he’s resigned.
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: What you’re saying is exactly right. Impeachment must continue. And we must remember that the governor’s abuse of power extends far beyond just the women that, you know, he actually harassed and harmed and victimized. And it also extends to the millions that he made on the book deal while abusing his staff and misusing his staff. It extends to the victims of COVID-19 who passed away in nursing homes and whose numbers and whose deaths he erased, in their numbers, and hid from the Legislature, right? This is a pattern. This is serial abuse.
Impeachment means that New York will not be paying Andrew Cuomo’s pension for the rest of his life. Impeachment means that Governor Cuomo will not be able to run for office again by claiming to be the victim, while he’s also gaslighting and harming further the actual victims that he caused harm to. Impeachment means that we are then securing justice for folks who actually came forward, were brave enough to speak up about their experience, and also the folks who were not yet able to come forward, who we know there are many.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you comment on this irony of Governor Cuomo, while he was in office, supposedly championing the rights of women and now to being forced to resign in disgrace because of his treatment of women?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: Well, I mean, it’s interesting that you actually commented on that, because just because Governor Cuomo is retiring, it doesn’t actually mean that the toxic culture of abuse and misogyny in which he operated and thrived in is actually going away. We want to actively work to change that. We have to pass legislation that will make Albany a safe and harassment-free workplace. Landmark legislation was passed in 2019 to protect workers in the workplace from sexual harassment, but we, very ironically, exempted our own staff, our own folks, from being protected. I actually have a bill, with Senator Andrew Gounardes, to close that loophole.
AMY GOODMAN: How is that possible that you exempted yourselves?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: Well, I believe that that was a clause or an exemption that the executive wanted.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as Governor Cuomo continually says, “I did this to everyone. It’s just that mores are changing now, and I wasn’t up on the times,” I wanted to go to Governor Cuomo’s former executive assistant. In the report, she was known as “Executive Assistant Number One.” But this past week, she came out, named herself and filed a criminal complaint — her name is Brittany Commisso — accusing Cuomo of groping her, kissing her against her will, verbally harassing her. This is Commisso speaking on CBS about one of the incidents that occurred at Cuomo’s Executive Mansion.

BRITTANY COMMISSO: So, he gets up, and he goes to give me a hug. And I could tell, immediately when he hugged me, it was in the — probably the most sexually aggressive manner than any of the other hugs that he had given me. It was then that I said, you know, “Governor” — you know, my words were, “You’re going to get us in trouble.” And I thought to myself that probably wasn’t the best thing to say, but at that time I was so afraid that one of the mansion staff, that they were going to come up and see this and think, “Oh, you know, is that when she comes here for?” And that’s not what I came there for, and that’s not who I am. And I was terrified of that.

And when I said that, he walked over, shut the door, so hard, to the point where I thought, for sure, someone downstairs must think — they must think, if they heard that, “What is going on?” — came back to me, and that’s when he put his hand up my blouse and cupped my breast over my bra. I exactly remember looking down, seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself, “Oh my god, this is happening.” It happened so quick. He didn’t say anything. When I stopped it, he just pulled away and walked away.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that is the Executive Assistant Number One. She is naming herself, Brittany Commisso, filing a criminal complaint accusing Cuomo of groping her. Unclear if other criminal complaints will be filed. A number of local DAs, from Albany to New York City, have asked for the evidence behind the attorney general’s report. And this could continue at that level, on a criminal level. Yuh-Line, state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, you yourself are a sexual assault survivor. You have championed the legislation that ultimately Governor Cuomo has signed off on. Can you tell us whether he will be impeached, whether or not he leaves, as impeachment proceedings are continuing in the Assembly now?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: I mean, you mentioned, you know, the Child Victims Act, which is about child survivors of the childhood sexual assaults, etc., that we actually passed. But we have not passed the Adult Survivors Act, which is actually very important in this case.
And I just wanted to note that if you are a survivor of sexual assault, it doesn’t matter if you had to laugh it off, go to a dance party or drink until you made yourself sick or make a joke or even have sex or forget or just read a book or take a shower, or whatever that you have to do to survive something like that, because the way that Governor Cuomo’s lawyer addressed that situation was just gaslighting and very harmful, talking about how Brittany actually got up and ate cheese and crackers and made jokes with her colleagues. And I just wanted to say that there are lots of different ways for survivors to cope and to survive after something violating, and it’s a really big deal that they just got through it. And I think that it’s a really big deal to acknowledge that.