After New York Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report detailing 11 women who had been sexually harassed by Andrew Cuomo, the Empire State governor responded with a recorded video statement designed to defend himself and declare his innocence.
It was a complete and utter disaster. Like, a dumpster on fire, floating down a flooded street kind of bad. Appalachian Trail bad, like Mark Sanford bad. It’s like “Ishtar” bad.
Cuomo clearly tried to gain sympathy from New Yorkers by claiming that his inappropriate behavior with a former staffer named Charlotte Bennett reminded him of a family member’s experience with sexual assault. “This young lady brought it all back to me. She and I are roughly the same age. I thought my family’s experience had taught me a lot about the subject “Cuomo stated as an explanation. “I hoped I could assist her in getting through a difficult time. I did ask her some questions that I wouldn’t normally ask other people.”
Using your family as a shield is unethical under any circumstances – and Cuomo is far from the first politician to do so – but it’s especially egregious when Bennett claims Cuomo asked her if she was monogamous or had relationships with older men. That doesn’t seem like the caring adult Cuomo is attempting to portray.
Back in March, when it seemed like a new allegation against Cuomo was being made every day, he used the James investigation to keep his job. Cuomo said at the time, “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion.”
On Tuesday, however, Cuomo slammed the investigation as a “biased review” of the facts of the case. “Politics and bias are interwoven throughout every aspect of this situation,” he later said.
While Cuomo never explicitly stated that the James report was political, he and his allies have been pounding the pavement on that front for months. Someone – and that person should be fired today – approved a video that aired during Cuomo’s speech, showing him in embraces with people ranging from the famous to the unknown. “I do it with everyone, Black and White, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, and people I meet on the street,” Cuomo said as the video began to play.
It’s impossible to overstate how stupid this was. As Ashley Parker of The Washington Post pointed out on Twitter, “‘I do it with everyone’ is an interesting defense of sexually inappropriate behavior.” “In court, saying you’ve been doing the same behavior ‘all your life’ and showing pictures of kissing your mother would not be an effective defense to allegations of pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace detailed over the course of 168 pages,” CNN’s Laura Jarrett put it.
Cuomo was so certain that showing pictures of himself hugging and kissing people was a good idea that, as New York Times reporter Brian Rosenthal pointed out, the majority of his 85-page response to the James report was just pictures of him embracing people. And, as Eliza Relman of Business Insider pointed out, “Cuomo included photos of Obama and Bush hugging *hurricane victims* in his 85-page defense, the majority of which is pictures.” He also included pictures of other politicians, including President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, embracing people (without context).
If Cuomo is eventually impeached, his, uh, performance on Tuesday – particularly the hugging and kissing montage – could be the tipping point for legislators who were previously undecided about whether to remove him from office. Not only was Cuomo unrepentant, but the entire response felt tone deaf – the actions of a very powerful man who still doesn’t get it.