Josefa Velasquez, THE CITY
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s lawyers launched an offensive against some of the women who accused him of sexual harassment while trying to paint him as a victim of a tainted investigation.
In a Friday afternoon slide-filled Zoom presentation and news conference, the attorneys attacked the report by State Attorney General Letitia James that threatens to drive Cuomo from office as an “ambush” — and hinted the third-term governor would soon speak for himself.
“I know the difference between putting together a case against a target versus doing independent fact-finding with an open mind,” said attorney Rita Glavin, who is representing Cuomo. “There has been no open minded fact-finding here in this investigation. This investigation was conducted in a manner to support a predetermined narrative.”
The online spectacle, which came three days after James’ 168-page report detailing the sexual harassment allegations of 11 women against the state’s top official, offered the starkest signal yet that Cuomo has no intention of stepping down even as he faces a growing exodus of allies and near-certain impeachment.
In a possible preview of Cuomo’s strategy, the lawyers demanded interview transcripts and contended the governor, who was questioned by investigators, was blindsided because he never got to see the report before James released it Aug. 3.
The Zoom defense followed the revelation that an unnamed executive assistant in the Governor’s Office filed a criminal complaint in Albany against Cuomo for allegedly groping her breast last year.
On Sunday, the woman identified in the report “Executive Assistant No. 1” responded by going public. Brittany Commisso told CBS This Morning and the Albany Times Union that Cuomo “needs to be held accountable.”
“What he did to me was a crime,” she said.
Hours after Commisso spoke out, Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, resigned, saying in a statement the past two years had been “emotionally and mentally trying.”
The governor’s lawyers claimed Friday that it was not possible for her to have been alone with him at the Executive Mansion — just one example in which they painstakingly sought to discredit an accuser. They also took aim at James’ choice of investigators — including Joon Kim, a former federal prosecutor who previously led the corruption case that sent Cuomo aide and friend Joseph Percoco to prison.
Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for James, defended the investigation, saying that Cuomo’s office was attempting to “undermine and politicize” a probe the governor himself authorized months earlier.
“There are 11 women whose accounts have been corroborated by a mountain of evidence. Any suggestion that attempts to undermine the credibility of these women or this investigation is unfortunate,” Levy said in a statement.
‘This Woman’s Story Is False’
Glavin, Cuomo’s personal attorney, tried to cast aspersions on Commisso’s account to investigators. She cited email correspondence and Executive Mansion visitor logs to argue that there was no opportunity for the governor to be alone with her on Nov. 16 as he tended to other work while other employees were at the Albany residence.
“Me and my team went through the emails for that day, all of the entrance and exit records, and this woman’s story is false. The documentary evidence does not support what she said,” Glavin said.
But in interviews with the two outside attorneys hired by James’ office, the executive assistant never said the governor groped her on Nov. 16, a footnote in the report states.
The aide told investigators that she did not recall the exact date of the incident, but that it occurred around the time she was asked to photograph a document. A copy of the photograph provided to the investigators was dated Nov. 16.
She had told the Albany Times Union that the alleged groping did not occur that day, but at another time when she was called to the governor’s residence to assist the 63-year-old Democrat with phone problems.
Glavin contends her team found no records of the aide visiting the mansion on another day that month.
The lawyers did not address the allegations made by a female state trooper that Cuomo ran his hand across her stomach and his finger across her spine.
‘He liked how she maintained eye contact. He liked that she was assertive with him.’
Glavin said that Cuomo — who, the report says, made exception to rules so that the female trooper could serve on his detail — would address those allegations “soon” and stated that the governor added her to his security detail because of a “lack of diversity.”
The governor, Glavin said, found the trooper “impressive” after meeting her at an event at the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in 2017.
“He liked how she maintained eye contact. He liked that she was assertive with him in the conversations,” she added.
‘Widely Respected Professionals’
Glavin, along with the lawyers representing other employees in the Executive Chamber, also used the virtual news conference to question the motives of Kim, whose office once investigated Cuomo.
“The governor does have concerns, very serious concerns, about whether Mr. Kim was the independent investigator that the attorney general promised she would appoint in this matter,” said Paul Fishman, a former federal prosecutor in New Jersey who is representing the Executive Chamber.
“There is no question in my mind that [Kim] formed impressions about how the chamber was run,” Glavin added.
The attorney general’s office stood by James’ choice to appoint Kim and Anne Clark, a prominent discrimination lawyer, saying that the pair are “widely respected professionals, recognized for their legal and investigatory ability.”
Both Glavin and Fishman also chided the investigators for not including transcripts of the interviews conducted during the course of the probe, claiming that the state Assembly — which is proceeding with an impeachment inquiry — and five district attorneys offices have already received them.
“As lawyers, what we like to do, what we need to do, what we’re entitled to do, on behalf of our clients is to see the evidence so that we can properly respond to. But right now we can’t,” said Fishman.
According to a person with direct knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak publicly, neither the state Assembly nor the DAs have received the transcripts because James’ office is still redacting sensitive information.
One former Cuomo administration official, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said that the news conference and the request for the transcripts of interviews sent a chilling message to anyone working for the governor who may have spoken to the investigators but not mentioned in the report.
“They’re sending a message to the witnesses, the people in state government: ‘Don’t speak,’” the former official told THE CITY, adding that Cuomo and his inner circle “see that it’s breaking and they have to keep it together.”
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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