New York governor Andrew Cuomo is facing growing calls to resign after an investigation found he sexually harassed 11 current and former state government employees.
Two lawyers independent of his department spoke to 179 people, and found that his administration was a “hostile work environment” that was “rife with fear and intimidation”.
Its findings have prompted a raft of fellow New York Democrats to call on Mr Cuomo to quit, including a number of members of Congress.
But the governor has rejected the findings, declaring: “I never touched anyone inappropriately. That is just not who I am and that’s not who I have ever been.”
State attorney general Letitia James announced the findings of the nearly five-month investigation on Tuesday.
As well as complainants, the investigators spoke to current and former members of the executive chamber, state troopers, and others who had regular interactions with the governor.
Speaking at a news conference, Ms James said: “These interviews and pieces of evidence revealed a deeply disturbing yet clear picture: governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws.”
The investigation found that Mr Cuomo and his senior staff endeavoured to retaliate against a former employee who accused him of wrongdoing.
It was also determined that the governor harassed women outside government.
Ms James praised the “heroic” women who had come forward, saying the investigation would not have been possible without them.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at Tuesday’s news conference
The allegations against Mr Cuomo, who has been governor since 2011, first emerged late last year.
There were multiple claims that he inappropriately touched and sexually harassed women who worked with him or whom he met at public events.
An aide in his office alleged that he groped her breast.
Another, Lindsey Boylan, said the governor kissed her on the lips following a meeting in his office and “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs”.
In the wake of Ms Boylan going public, the Cuomo administration released personnel memos to the media which revealed that she had quit her role after being confronted about complaints that she belittled and shouted at her staff.
She said those documents “were leaked to the media in an effort to smear me”.
Other aides said they were subjected to unwelcome questions about sex and dating from the governor.
Today’s report is deeply disturbing. For the good of New York, Governor Cuomo must resign.
My statement with @RepAOC, @RepMondaire, @RepBowman, @NydiaVelazquez, @RepMaloney, @RepRitchie, @RepYvetteClarke, @RepGraceMeng, @RepEspaillat, @RepBrianHiggins, and @RepKathleenRice. pic.twitter.com/pqu3VvQGRD
— Rep. Nadler (@RepJerryNadler) August 3, 2021
Charlotte Bennett, a former aide, said she was asked if she was open to sex with an older man.
Joon Kim, one of the lawyers leading the investigation, told the news conference: “Some suffered through unwanted touching, and grabbing of their most intimate body parts.
“Others suffered through repeated offensive, sexually suggestive, or gender-based comments.
“A number of them endured both. None of them welcomed it. And all of them found it disturbing, humiliating, uncomfortable and inappropriate.”
There were calls for Mr Cuomo to quit when the allegations first emerged last year, but the governor has remained in post and begun raising money for a fourth term in office.
He has always denied touching anyone inappropriately, but did at first say he was sorry if his behaviour with women was “misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation”.
March: ‘I truly and deeply apologise’
However, he has adopted a more combative approach, saying he did nothing wrong and questioning the motives of his accusers and critics.
Mr Cuomo has also questioned the neutrality of the lawyers hired by the attorney general to investigate the allegations against him.
When Mr Kim was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, he was involved in corruption investigations concerning members of Mr Cuomo’s administration.
The New York State Assembly is looking into whether there are grounds to impeach the governor – and the attorney general’s report is expected to play a key role in that process.
It has hired its own legal team to look into Mr Cuomo’s conduct, as well as other allegations of wrongdoing that have been levelled against him.
The lower house of the state legislature is examining the help the governor got from top aides to write a book about the COVID-19 pandemic, special access that relatives got to COVID testing last year, and his administration’s decision to initially withhold some data on nursing home deaths in the state from the public.