ALBANY, N.Y. — The women accusing former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment described a degrading and noxious environment in which they were subjected to constant come-ons and crude behavior, according to newly released transcripts.
An embattled Cuomo resigned in August following a five-month probe by independent investigators working for Attorney General Letitia James that resulted in a bombshell report detailing misconduct claims from 11 women.
Transcripts of interviews with Cuomo’s accusers, released on Wednesday, paint a picture of a caustic office culture.
Charlotte Bennett, a former aide who publicly accused the governor of asking her whether she would date older men and whether she was monogamous in her relationships while alone with him in his office last year, said it was clear the toxicity in the office came from the top.
“If you got yelled at in front of everyone, it wasn’t any special day,” she told investigators. “(The office) was controlled largely by his temper, and he was surrounded by people who enabled his behavior, like surrounded by yes men — I’ll use that term — of this is what he wants, this is what he gets, and that mood and that anger or that fear of him suddenly becoming angry definitely ruled the office and then trickled down.”
Bennett, who believes the ex-governor was attempting to groom her for a sexual relationship, said Cuomo would often berate staffers until they were in tears.
“It was hard for me to hear him yelling at people, and I wasn’t even in the room, and it impacted like my emotional state from my cubicle outside his office, and it could be anyone,” she added.
Brittany Commisso, whose allegations of Cuomo groping her late last year have led to criminal charges against the 63-year-old, said the Democrat could fly off the handle at any moment.
“He would go from zero to 60 in .2 seconds depending on the situation,” she told investigators.
Commisso recounted how Cuomo once threatened to toss a senior aide out of a window.
She also described some of the perks of working for the executive chamber, including special State Trooper cards and stickers that staffers were “told just to keep in our wallets just in case.”
Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to publicly accuse Cuomo of improper behavior, said the executive chamber was “a terrible environment for everyone, whether they were sexually harassed or not.”
Several of the women testified about how Cuomo would refer to his top aides, including secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa, as the "Mean Girls,” a reference to the 2004 Lindsey Lohan movie.
Bennett said the “Mean Girls” were part of Cuomo’s efforts to instill division among his employees.
“Like his test is setting up someone in a position where they’re being abused by the people around him and not just directly from him,” she testified.
Another staffer, identified only as “Kaitlin” said she was ostracized by the “Mean Girls” group once Cuomo began showing interest in her.
“They were dismissive, short. They weren’t helpful. They would — they — there was no like office comradery to help each other or to do your job,” she testified. “They didn’t call me names. They just — dismissed me, like I didn’t exist.”
Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing and said that his actions and words were merely misinterpreted by the women who have come forward.
The governor did, however, admit during his own tense exchange with investigators that he may have referred to women on his staff as “honey, “sweetheart” or “darling.”
“You know, one time in my life, ‘honey’ was a fine thing to say, ‘darling’ was a fine thing to say,” he said. “It’s not anymore.”
Cuomo said he had no regrets about his behavior in the workplace.
Yet, he also added that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if somebody who worked for him had sat on his lap at some point during his career as a public official.
“I don’t recall anyone specifically. But, you know, I have people who have worked with me 14 years, 10 years,” Cuomo told investigators. “If somebody were to sit on my lap, you know, I wouldn’t push them off.”
Cuomo’s legal team has repeatedly called on the attorney general’s office to make transcripts from the investigation public.
However, attorney Rita Glavin criticized Wednesday’s partial release since Cuomo is currently facing criminal groping charges.
“The attorney general deliberately harms a pending case by broadcasting to each witness what other witnesses have testified to, and spreading false and salacious hearsay and rumors,” Glavin said in a statement.
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