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Andrew Cuomo Responds To Sexual Harassment Investigation With Victim-Blaming and a Bizarre Slideshow

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday morning that the independent investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo has concluded and that Cuomo has in fact violated state and federal laws by sexually harassing women and creating a hostile work environment.

Following James’ press conference, Cuomo released a pre-recorded video statement addressing the investigations’ findings. And as is so often the case, Cuomo didn’t do himself any favors with the way in which he chose to defend himself. Just like his previous statements where he offered a “sorry you feel that way” non-apology or that time he blamed “cancel culture” for the reaction to the allegations, Cuomo is sure to face some intense and well-deserved backlash for this weird, victim-blaming response.

Cuomo started off by saying he promised he “would hold [his] tongue” during the investigation, “and I have.” That’s not exactly true but now that the review is finished, he has a point-by-point rebuttal aimed at specific individual women.

First, Cuomo takes aim at Charlotte Bennett, a young former aide who was the second woman to come forward publicly with accusations of sexual harassment.

Cuomo says that of all the allegations made, Bennett’s “bothered [him] most.” Cuomo has said before that Bennett spoke to him about being a survivor of sexual assault, and while the New York Times says Bennett has been open about that fact in the past, it still feels incredibly icky to hear Cuomo disclose such personal matters publicly.

In his video statement Tuesday, Cuomo took that ickiness a step (or a hundred steps) further, saying that Bennett’s history of “personal trauma” was the very reason why he acted inappropriately with her.

As Cuomo tells it, Bennett’s story “resonated deeply” with him because it reminded him of a similar trauma experienced by an unnamed family member. “Not only had I heard the story before,” he says. “I lived the story before.”

Cuomo says he “watched her live and suffer with the trauma” she experienced while in high school. “I would do anything to make it go away for her but it never really goes away,” he said. “I spent countless days and nights working through these issues with her and therapists and counselors.”

Speaking of the pain he felt for not being able to “take the pain away” for his family member, Cuomo says “this young woman,” meaning Bennett, “brought it all back.”

Basically, Cuomo is using the trauma of two different women to explain why he acted inappropriately with his employee, chalking it all up to a misguided attempt to help Bennett “work through a difficult time.” He says he “asked her questions I don’t normally ask people,” but that it was just a case of blurred boundaries with good intentions.

As a reminder, earlier this year, Bennett described the harassment she endured, detailing an uncomfortable conversation where the governor asked her intimate questions about her personal life. She described the 63-year-old asking her if she’d ever dated an older man, asking what she thought of age differences in relationships, and telling her he was “open” to relationships with women in their 20s—”comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship,” wrote the New York Times.

In that same conversation, which occurred months into New York’s lockdown, Bennett says Cuomo told her he was lonely and missed hugging people. She says she tried to “dodge the question.”

“Ms. Bennett said she had tried to dodge the question by responding that she missed hugging her parents,” writes the Times. “’ And he was, like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody?’” she said.”

I don’t know how any of those questions could have been posed in an attempt at helping her work through her trauma but I’m going to guess that’s because they weren’t.

Cuomo also had a response to another accuser, Anna Ruch, who did not work for the governor but who has spoken out about an uncomfortable interaction she had with him. Ruch met Cuomo for the very first time at a mutual acquaintance’s wedding. Here’s how the Times described their meeting back in March:

The governor was working the room after toasting the newlyweds, and when he came upon Ms. Ruch, now 33, she thanked him for his kind words about her friends. But what happened next instantly unsettled her: Mr. Cuomo put his hand on Ms. Ruch’s bare lower back, she said in an interview on Monday.

When she removed his hand with her own, Ms. Ruch recalled, the governor remarked that she seemed “aggressive” and placed his hands on her cheeks. He asked if he could kiss her, loudly enough for a friend standing nearby to hear. Ms. Ruch was bewildered by the entreaty, she said, and pulled away as the governor drew closer.

In addressing this story, Cuomo all but ignores Ruch’s discomfort and even her very existence, focusing instead on the Times’s coverage of the encounter. He dismisses it as not being worthy of a front-page article and claims the paper “sought to unfairly characterize and weaponize everyday interactions that I’ve had with any number of New Yorkers.”

To prove his point, Cuomo’s speech is then accompanied by a lengthy slideshow of him putting his hands on people’s faces, hugging them, kissing them, and otherwise expressing physical affection.

The video also came with a “written” component on his website that’s full of even more pictures.

Cuomo then doubles down by extending his “That’s how I am with everyone” defense to another woman who said she was made to feel uncomfortable when Cuomo kissed her on the forehead at a (presumably work-related) Christmas party and said “Ciao, bella” (hello/goodbye beautiful) to her.

“I don’t remember doing it but I’m sure that I did,” Cuomo said, adding “I do kiss people on the forehead,” launching into yet another slideshow of him kissing people. He says that he does say “ciao bella” to people and that “on occasion, I do slip and say ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ or ‘honey.'” He says he does “banter” and tell “jokes.”

Cuomo acknowledges that there are “generational or cultural perspectives that frankly I hadn’t fully appreciated,” and he says he has “learned from this.”

If he had actually learned, though, his “apology” probably wouldn’t have been accompanied by a detailed slideshow meant to prove that his behavior was innocuous, he wouldn’t have weaponized a woman’s trauma to justify his harassment of another woman, and he wouldn’t reduce all these women’s complaints down to a case of “trial by newspaper,” as he so dismissively referred to the media coverage of his accusers.

While Cuomo has made it clear that he has no intention of resigning and he just wants to sweep this whole investigation under the rug, the entire New York Democratic congressional delegation is currently calling for his resignation, and some are set to move ahead with impeachment proceedings if he doesn’t comply.

Update: President Joe Biden is also calling on Cuomo to resign. From The Guardian:

The president said back in March that Cuomo should resign and might be prosecuted if the investigation substantiated the allegations against him. When asked today if he still believes that, Biden said, “I stand by the statement.” When pressed on whether Cuomo should resign, Biden replied, “Yes.”

(image: screencap)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.