The governor placed his finger on the back of the trooper’s neck, standing behind her in an elevator at his Manhattan office, tracing the path of her spine with a two-word narration: “Hey, you.”
Sometimes, he asked questions — Why didn’t she wear a dress? Why pursue marriage when “your sex drive goes down” afterward? Could he kiss her? — and sometimes, he made statements: He remarked that his ideal girlfriend could “handle pain.” He said that the trooper, in her late 20s, was “too old” for him. He instructed her to say nothing of their conversations.
The trooper was perhaps most unsettled after an event on Long Island in 2019. As she held a door open for him, she felt the palm of his hand on her bellybutton, pressing toward her right hip, where she kept her gun. “I felt completely violated,” she later told investigators. “But, you know, I’m here to do a job.”
Doing a job at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was long known to be taxing and often demeaning work. But a 165-page report released on Tuesday by the state attorney general is at once the fullest accounting yet of his executive misdeeds and a meticulous rendering of how that conduct was permitted to fester in the first place.
To exist as a woman in Mr. Cuomo’s orbit, the report suggested, was to live “the dichotomy between fear and flirtation,” a space where the boss could toggle between intimate and intimidating and where his senior-most aides seemed to operate with a singular focus on the governor’s reputation and personal comfort.
In fact, the report says, as Mr. Cuomo continued sexually harassing women inside and outside his government, greater pains were taken to protect him from himself: The executive chamber declined to report harassment allegations from an executive assistant, Charlotte Bennett, to the appropriate state agency and moved instead to establish a practice preventing certain female staff members from being left alone with him.
So bleak were the options available to Mr. Cuomo’s victims, witness interviews suggested, that even unwanted sexualized attention could be seen as “a better alternative to the otherwise tense, stressful and ‘toxic’ experience in the Executive Chamber.”
Campaigns of retaliation were hatched against those whose accounts seemed likely to damage Mr. Cuomo’s name. But then, belligerence and belittling were “part of the deal” for anyone in his employ, one veteran of state government suggested in an email published in the report.
“There are several orders of victims in this issue: first and foremost the women who experienced these things with him,” another senior staff member emailed to herself in March 2021, as the allegations against Mr. Cuomo mounted. “Second though, and unrecognized are the staff. We are almost uniformly good people who killed ourselves … to accomplish his agenda — for his political glory, and for the feeling that he would make decisions with public service as his driving goal. I feel cheated out of that.”
Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday proceeded with characteristic defiance and deflection, broadly denying wrongdoing, calling the review biased and politically motivated and raising a family member’s own experience with sexual violence.
“I understand these dynamics,” he said, accusing those attacking him of diminishing the plight of “legitimate sexual harassment victims.”
But at times in the report, the governor’s interview with investigators only serves to reinforce a sense, pervasive throughout the document, that he has constructed a workplace intended to shield him from accountability for his own behavior.
He claims an executive assistant who accused him of unwanted advances was “the initiator of the hugs.” He says it was Ms. Bennett who raised the topic of potential girlfriends with him. He insists he never meant to make anyone uncomfortable and didn’t know he had.
Understand the Scandals Challenging Gov. Cuomo’s Leadership
The investigators found his denials “contrived.” They were not alone.
“I’m disgusted that Andrew Cuomo — a man who understands subtle power dynamics and power plays better than almost anyone in the planet — is giving this loopy excuse of not knowing he made women feel uncomfortable,” the senior official wrote in that March 2021 email to herself, after the governor had spoken publicly about Ms. Bennett’s allegations for the first time. “Either he knew exactly what he was doing (likely) or he is so narcissistic that he thought all women wanted these kinds of questions (crazy excuse even to write it).”
Such was the mind-warp that often visited people in Mr. Cuomo’s circle, a kind of psychological warfare — with him, with colleagues, with oneself — that permeated his office, as if the discomfort fueled him in a grueling job.
“On the one hand, he makes all this inappropriate and creepy behavior normal and like you should not complain,” Alyssa McGrath, an executive assistant, told investigators. “On the other hand, you see people get punished and screamed at if you do anything where you disagree with him or his top aides.”
And Ana Liss, an aide in the executive chamber, who felt she had been treated as “eye candy,” said she had come forward to describe what she saw as relatively minor transgressions because she believed a “tolerance for those micro flirtations” had created a permission structure for Mr. Cuomo to “act a certain way behind closed doors with women in more serious manners.”
The state trooper, who said she still fears retribution even as an anonymous figure in the report, recalled how a security detail commander responded to hearing the governor’s comments on her attire.
She had been driving them both when it happened. After she left the vehicle, unnerved by the exchange, the trooper received a message from the detail commander, advising discretion.
“Stays in the truck,” the message read.