- Julia SalazarNew York state senator representing the 18th District.
- Sochie Nnaemekastate director of the New York Working Families Party.
Pressure is growing on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign after the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, released the damning findings of an independent investigation Tuesday about how Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women in violation of the law. “The report is devastating, and it is disturbing. And unfortunately, it’s not surprising to anyone who has spent time in Albany,” says New York state Senator Julia Salazar. We also speak with Sochie Nnaemeka, state director of the New York Working Families Party, who says removing Cuomo must include a wider reckoning with how Albany operates. “We need to usher in a post-Cuomo moment,” says Nnaemeka. “We need a full transformation of New York state.”
AMY GOODMAN: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women, including touching and kissing them without consent and making inappropriate remarks. Those are the findings of a five-month investigation led by the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, who announced the results of the probe on Tuesday.
ATTORNEY GENERAL LETITIA JAMES: These interviews and pieces of evidence reveal a deeply disturbing yet clear picture: Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of both federal and state laws. The independent investigation found that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging and by making inappropriate comments.
Further, the governor and his senior team took actions to retaliate against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story, her truth. Governor Cuomo’s administration fostered a toxic workplace that enabled harassment and created a hostile work environment, where staffers did not feel comfortable coming forward with complaints about sexual harassment, due to a climate of fear and given the power dynamics.
AMY GOODMAN: Hours after the report’s findings were announced, Governor Cuomo defended himself against the allegations. He rejected calls to resign, saying his habits were part of the way he was raised. As he spoke, pictures on the screen showed him embracing people.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: I do it with everyone — Black and white, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, people who I meet on the street.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the 11 women accusing Cuomo of sexual misconduct, his former aide, Charlotte Bennett, demanded his resignation Tuesday. In an interview on CBS News with Norah O’Donnell, Bennett was asked about Cuomo saying in his statement he had asked Bennett questions he doesn’t normally ask people because she’s a survivor of sexual assault.
CHARLOTTE BENNETT: I think he still thinks that victim blaming is an effective means to negate the facts. But I think it’s just more embarrassing for him than it is actually effective.
NORAH O’DONNELL: The governor admitted that he asked you questions that he doesn’t normally ask people because you told him you’re a survivor of sexual assault. Do you think he’s gaslighting you?
CHARLOTTE BENNETT: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: The entire New York Democratic congressional delegation is now calling on Cuomo to resign, as well as President Biden, who was asked about his longtime political ally on Tuesday.
REPORTER: Are you calling on him to resign?
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes.
REPORTER: And if he doesn’t resign, do you believe he should be impeached and removed from office?
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Let’s take one thing at a time here. I think he should resign.
AMY GOODMAN: Members of the New York State Assembly are moving ahead with plans to draft articles of impeachment. This probe was civil, not criminal, but the district attorney in Albany has requested the materials from the report and encouraged other survivors to come forward.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. Julia Salazar is New York state senator for the 18th District. And Sochie Nnaemeka is director of the New York Working Families Party. They co-wrote a piece for Jacobin earlier this year headlined “Andrew Cuomo’s Reign Is Over. Now It’s the Left’s Turn.”
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! So much has happened in the last 24 hours with the release of this report. Again, it is civil, not criminal, but now the Albany prosecutor is looking into possibly bringing criminal charges. You’re a state senator, Julia Salazar. Can you talk about what’s happening in this legislative body? An impeachment would happen in the Assembly. And what’s different about, for example, the impeachment of Clinton or the impeachment of Trump, that, according to New York state law, Cuomo would have to step aside during the trial, and lieutenant governor would become the governor. But talk about all of the charges and your reaction to the report.
SEN. JULIA SALAZAR: Yeah, so, several months ago, the office of the state Attorney General Letitia James began the investigation, which concluded with the report that her office issued yesterday. But concurrent with the attorney general’s investigation has been the investigation in the State Assembly that was also initiated in the spring, an impeachment investigation in order to ultimately produce articles of impeachment, which have not been drafted yet.
But the State Assembly is looking at not only the sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo, which have been substantiated in the attorney general’s report, but, additionally, the investigation is focused on the Governor’s Office concealing the deaths of many New Yorkers in nursing homes due to COVID-19, in part as a result of an order that was issued by the Department of Health in 2020 during the peak of the pandemic. They’re also looking at the governor’s potential misuse of public funds, of state funds in service of his $5 million book deal, which he secured in the peak of the pandemic, as well. They are looking at additional allegations against the governor. And any one of these alone would potentially be grounds for impeachment, including any one of the 11-plus allegations, sexual harassment allegations, that have been substantiated. But it really doesn’t look good for Governor Cuomo.
When the Assembly drafts articles of impeachment and votes, a simple majority is needed in the Assembly in order for the impeachment process to move on to the Senate, in which case there would be a High Court of Impeachment, which includes all sitting senators — except for the Senate majority leader, due to the Senate majority leader being second in line of succession — and the seven judges on the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, and that would make up the Impeachment Court, which would need a two-thirds majority in order to impeach Governor Cuomo and remove him from office.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Senator Salazar, what is your personal reaction to the report, especially the findings of the toxic work environment that the governor had in his office, which, for many politicians, there was a toxic environment throughout state government as a result of Andrew Cuomo’s methods of operation? And you personally have witnessed some of that. Could you talk about that?
SEN. JULIA SALAZAR: The report is devastating, and it is disturbing. And unfortunately, it’s not surprising to anyone who has spent time in Albany. The governor has threatened people. There are numerous reports about this. He has threatened members of the press. He has threatened legislators. I, personally, as a state legislator, have always sought to avoid direct interactions with the governor, out of fear. A lot of legislators are in constant fear of retaliation by the governor if they speak out against his political agenda or speak out about his behavior. And so, unfortunately, this is unsurprising to those of us in Albany. And there were many of us, as early as February and March, who have been calling for the governor to be impeached and for him to resign, which are not mutually exclusive, of course. We still are demanding that the governor resign and that we move forward with an impeachment trial.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask Sochie Nnaemeka of the Working Families Party — the Assembly, obviously, has to take up articles of impeachment, but Carl Heastie, the speaker of the Assembly, is not exactly — has not exactly been a profile in courage in the past. What’s your expectation as to how this will unfold in the Assembly?
SOCHIE NNAEMEKA: Thank you, Juan. I think what we’ve heard and what we’ve seen from Assembly leaders, across political stripes, up and down different geographic corridors of New York state, is that assemblymembers are saying with one voice, “We must proceed with impeachment.” And so, Speaker Heastie is someone who does really listen to and look to his members. That unequivocal and clear demand must be heard and met.
As Senator Salazar said, Governor Cuomo resigning and being called to resign does not negate the responsibility that the Assembly has to take forward this charge of impeachment. The list of violations that the governor has undertaken over the past two years is a stain on New York’s history. We have to move forward, and the Assembly must hold on to the power that they have, and move forward to remove the governor from office as swiftly as possible.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to comment on the front page of the Times. It has a banner headline: “Cuomo Urged to Quit After Damaging Report.” And then it quotes the women, in their own words, some of those 11 women, from the 165-page report that was issued by Letitia James, the attorney general. But the report was carried out by two very well-respected prosecutors, particularly well versed in issues of sexual assault and sexual abuse.
It starts with Executive Assistant #1: “I knew I could feel him pushing my body against his and definitely making sure that he could feel my breasts up against his body. And was doing it in a way that I felt was obviously uncomfortable for me and he was maybe trying to get some sort of personal satisfaction from it.”
Trooper #1 — and this is particularly significant, his security detail, a woman on his security detail, saying, “I remember just freezing, being — in the back of my head, I’m like, oh, how do I say no politely because in my head if I said no, he’s going to take it out on the detail. And now I’m on the bad list.” She went on to talk about how he had touched her from her chest down to her private parts. He would run his hand along her body.
And then there’s Charlotte Bennett, the former top aide to Mr. Cuomo, saying, “The way he was repeating 'you were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and betrayed' over and over again while looking me directly in the eyes was something out of a horror movie. It was like he was testing me.”
And then, Lindsey Boylan, who is the former state economic development official, who said, “I’ve been sexually harassed throughout my career, but not in a way where the whole environment was set up to feed the predator and this and every interaction I had with the Governor and the culture felt like it was all to feed the predator.”
Let me go to Charlotte Bennett, who I quoted before, who told CBS News anchor Norah O’Donnell that the governor repeatedly made inappropriate comments to her, including questions about her experience as a sexual assault survivor.
CHARLOTTE BENNETT: He asked me if age difference mattered. He also explained that he was fine with anyone over 22.
NORAH O’DONNELL: And how old are you?
CHARLOTTE BENNETT: Twenty-five.
NORAH O’DONNELL: What were you thinking as he’s asking you these questions?
CHARLOTTE BENNETT: I thought, “He’s trying to sleep with me. The governor is trying to sleep with me. And I’m deeply uncomfortable, and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.”
AMY GOODMAN: That interview conducted in March. Julia Salazar, the overall climate, and what was known in the Legislature? I mean, this kind of open secret, because the point of several of the women was that it wasn’t just him, it was what they all made possible and the repercussions against them. You yourself a sexual assault survivor — in your case, it was quite public, and you accused the spokesperson for the former Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He ultimately was forced to resign.
SEN. JULIA SALAZAR: Yes. It’s really disturbing, as a sexual assault survivor, to witness this play out. And additionally, as a legislator, we’re familiar with the culture of fear that Governor Cuomo has created in Albany. Charlotte is absolutely right and very courageous in speaking out about her own experience. The culture that Governor Cuomo has created protects him, and it just perpetuates this cycle. People are fearful of him, are fearful of being retaliated against, and it also creates a culture in which people are loyal to him and are complicit in perpetuating this behavior and covering it up.
I know, you know, in my own experience, I was essentially coerced into publicly speaking about being sexually assaulted when — it was during my state Senate campaign in 2018 when a hostile reporter from the Daily Mail contacted me and said that they knew about it and they were going to publish it. And I then was forced to speak about it publicly. And thankfully, several other women, within an hour of me having to speak about being sexually assaulted by the spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister, they came forward, and they said, “This man is a sexual predator. We’ve had our own experiences with him.” And it wasn’t long after that, a matter of months, before he was forced to resign.
But I really — as someone who had not originally planned at the time to ever speak publicly about what had happened to me, I really admire the people, the workers, the women, like Charlotte, who had the courage to speak out on their own volition so that other women would be empowered to do so, as well.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to ask Sochie Nnaemeka about this whole issue of the role of the media in propping up and making Andrew Cuomo sort of a national hero during the COVID pandemic, the worst days of the COVID pandemic, the tendency of the media, for instance, to portray his battles with Bill de Blasio as two competing egos. What responsibility do the media have for all of these years basically not really delving into the autocratic nature of Governor Cuomo?
SOCHIE NNAEMEKA: You know, it’s really been a series of disappointing revelations. Obviously, during the darkest moments of the pandemic, Americans were desperate for a counterforce to President Trump’s blustering incompetence. And Governor Cuomo presented himself as a, you know, Prince Charming, and the media and Americans and so many of us ate it up.
But this is also recognizing years and years of a governor who led through fear and through austerity and through exclusion and through bullying. The way that they put forward those things as leadership, signs of leadership — his team often speaks to his bullying ways, his yelling, his diminishing comments as signs of leadership. But what is clear now is that they’re actually the other side of an abuser’s coin. What he does on the outside to exclude, to shame, to silence his opponents, what we see is that, behind closed doors and in the shadows, he uses those very same leadership traits to abuse, to prey on and to sexually harass. Those are components of his leadership quality, and we cannot extol them in public when we see the very real ways in which his bravado is actually abuse.
AMY GOODMAN: And what would it mean if he was forced — if he either resigns or forced to step down? Can you talk a little about, Sochie, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul?
SOCHIE NNAEMEKA: Well, we need to usher in a post-Cuomo moment. We need a full transformation of New York state. That’s both in terms of policies — right? Governor Cuomo and his administration has overseen the largest housing crisis, overdose crisis in New York’s history. We have failed to fully fund education, until this year, when progressives took over the budget. So it’s both the policies, that very much affect working people’s lives, which have to happen under a new governor with progressive aims, but it’s also the style of governing.
There is a whole new bench of leadership, represented by people like state Senator Julia Salazar, who know that we have to govern in a different way. We’ve seen a parade of New York leaders leave in disgrace, whether it’s corruption or harassment or other unethical dealings. We need a new page, a brand-new page, in the state. And that will start with a progressive governor. Kathy Hochul did step out and condemned the governor’s behavior yesterday, after many, many months of us knowing that the governor was guilty of the very, very clear facts that were put on the table. And so, I think we need a new page in New York history, that will start with a new governor that’s committed to progressive ideals, that will put New Yorkers first and will not build a government of fear and protectionism to really just prop up their own political career.
AMY GOODMAN: Sochie Nnaemeka, I want to thank you for being with us, director of the New York Working Families Party.
SOCHIE NNAEMEKA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: And Julia Salazar, who is a New York state senator, 18th District. We’ll link to your piece in Jacobin that you wrote earlier this year, “Andrew Cuomo’s Reign Is Over. Now It’s the Left’s Turn.”
Next up, we look at how President Biden has partially reinstated the eviction moratorium after mass protests. And we’ll look at the infrastructure bill, why some are saying progressives in Congress should block Biden’s bill. Stay with us.