Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is facing a criminal investigation, the Albany County District Attorney said Tuesday, as a report by the New York State Attorney General found the governor violated the federal and state law by sexually harassing its employees.
The report, released by Attorney General Letitia James, and the announcement by Albany County Attorney David Soares, jeopardized Mr. Cuomo’s political future while putting him in legal jeopardy.
“Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of federal and state laws,” Ms. James said, adding that the governor’s administration had “fostered a toxic workplace” in which employees suppressed complaints due to a “climate of fear”. ”
“This investigation has exposed conduct that corrodes the very fabric and character of our state government,” Ms James said.
One of the investigators hired by Ms James, Anne L. Clark, said Mr Cuomo’s behavior violated a legal standard he himself enacted regarding the determination of gender harassment in the workplace.
“In New York, a woman need only show that she has been treated less well, at least in part because of her gender,” Ms Clark said. “The governor’s conduct, detailed in the report, clearly meets and far exceeds that standard.”
Shortly after the report was released, Mr. Soares released a statement saying his office was investigating Mr. Cuomo’s behavior and would request investigative documents that the attorney general’s office had obtained. Mr. Soares encouraged other victims to come forward to help with the investigation.
It was not immediately clear when Mr. Soares opened his investigation or exactly what behavior he was investigating. A spokeswoman for her office, Cecilia Walsh, said only that the office was reviewing “any allegations that rise to the level of criminal conduct.”
In an interview with NBC Nightly News, Soares said some of the allegations suggested criminal activity had taken place, but his office would conduct its own independent investigation.
He added that no accuser had filed a formal complaint with his office, even though his investigators had sought to contact some of them.
Rita Glavin, a lawyer for Mr Cuomo, released a preliminary response to the report on Tuesday afternoon, calling it “unfair” and “inaccurate”.
“Unfortunately, as the report’s findings show, investigators conducted a grossly biased investigation and deliberately ignored evidence inconsistent with the narrative they sought to weave,” its response said.
The attorney general’s report said the Albany Police Department was made aware of allegations in the report, including that the governor fondled the chest of an unnamed executive aide.
A lawyer for the executive assistant, whose identity has not been released, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Several attorneys have said the actions described in the report could constitute a misdemeanor sexual assault and that Albany prosecutors may consider that charge, among other charges.
Kevin Mintzer, an attorney who has represented multiple women in sexual misconduct cases, said while Mr. Cuomo could clearly be held individually liable in state civil court for his conduct, a criminal charge could be difficult to pursue. prove for prosecutors.
“Our criminal laws don’t cover much of what sexual harassment is, at least in the workplace,” he said.
In practice, Mintzer said, prosecutors would have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, a high legal hurdle.
“It’s a fact that groping and groping in the workplace are generally not criminally prosecuted,” Mintzer said. “Whether or not it is as it should be is a separate question.”
The attorney general’s report focused on what he said were violations of federal and state civil law, concluding that Mr. Cuomo’s actions had created a hostile work environment. The governor may face legal action from one or more of his accusers based on the behavior described by witnesses in the report.
A lawyer for one of his accusers, Charlotte Bennett, said her client did not intend to sue, but lawyers for some of the other women, including Lindsey Boylan, Alyssa McGrath and Virginia Limmiatis, said that no final decision had been made.
“Ms. Boylan is not ruling out any options,” said her lawyer, Jill Basinger.
Under New York State law, individuals, as well as employers, can be held liable in civil court for a hostile work environment if the individuals are found to be “personally involved” in harassment.
Lawyers for the women Mr Cuomo allegedly sexually harassed called on him to resign on Tuesday, calling the report “damning” and “devastating”.
Debra Katz, Ms. Bennett’s lawyer, said in an interview that investigators had done a thorough job and called on Mr. Cuomo to “do the right thing and step down”.
“His behavior was egregious and he doesn’t deserve the position he holds now,” she said.
Mariann Wang, lawyer for Ms McGrath and Ms Limmiatis, said the report showed Mr Cuomo should not be in a position of power. Ms Limmiatis accused the governor of touching her inappropriately; Ms McGrath said he made inappropriate comments about her personal life.
“He harassed and belittled women, basically treating them like objects, and if they dared to complain or not participate, he brutally punished them,” Ms. Wang said.
She added that even if Mr. Cuomo did not end up facing criminal charges, that did not suggest that the behavior described in the report was not “incredibly serious”.
“Just because someone isn’t being prosecuted on criminal charges doesn’t mean their behavior is acceptable or legal,” she said.
William K. Rashbaum contributed report.