New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned, bringing an end to a 40-year political career that made him a pandemic hero but is now in ruin thanks to a damning report by Attorney General Letitia James which labeled him a serial sexual harasser.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday morning in New York City, Cuomo insisted he is innocent and has never groped anyone, but is stepping aside in the interest of the people so government can focus on COVID.
He will replaced by Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul in two weeks. She tweeted: 'I agree with Governor Cuomo's decision to step down. It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers. As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State’s 57th Governor.'
Before resigning, Cuomo gave a 20 minute speech where he apologized to a state trooper who says he routinely touched her inappropriately and said while he acknowledges he 'deeply offended' the 11 women in the AG's report, he is of a generation that thinks hugging, kissing and flirting is acceptable.
He also suggested #MeToo had gone too far and that he 'didn't understand the extent to which the line has been redrawn' until now, but apologized to the women he 'deeply offended'.
Impeachment by the New York State Assembly was looking more like an inevitability for Cuomo, with 86 of the 150 members confirming last week they would vote him out - ten more than would be needed.
They were not just looking at the sexual harassment report but also claims that Cuomo used state resources to fund his book, gave his family early access to COVID tests and obscured the number of nursing home residents who died from the virus to avoid criticism after ordering thousands of them back in into homes.
'The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government... so therefore that is what I'll do because I work for you. Doing the right thing is doing the right thing for you.
Cuomo spoke from New York City. He has been hiding out in Albany since last week, when the Attorney General's report was released
'Kathy Hochul, my Lt. Governor, is smart and competent. This transition must be seamless. We have a lot going on. She can come up to speed quickly and my resignation will be effective in fourteen days,' he said.
Cuomo will be replaced by Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul in two weeks. She is expected to serve out the rest of his current term, which ends in November 2022
At the end of his speech, he addressed his three adult daughters and said: 'Your dad made mistakes and he apologized and he learned from it. That's what life is all about.'
He also credited New Yorkers for how they fought COVID, giving an emotional eulogy to the city's 'fallen brothers and sisters' and how sirens 'filled the city's silence' after 'the enemy landed'.
'You know me, I am New Yorker, born and bred, I am a fighter.
'My instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated. I believe it is unfair and untruthful and I believe it demonizes behavior that is unsustainable for society. If I could communicate the facts through the frenzy, New Yorkers would understand.
Hochul will be New York's first female governor
'But when I took my oath as governor, I became a fighter but I became a fighter for you and it is your best interest that I must serve.
'This situation, by its current trajectory, will generate months of political and legal controversy. That is what is going to happen. That is how the political wind is blowing. It will consume government, cost taxpayers millions of dollars, it will brutalize people.
'The State Assembly outlined weeks of process that will then lead to months of litigation.
'Time and money that government should spend managing COVID, guarding against the Delta variant, reopening up state, fighting gun violence, and saving New York City.
'All that time would be wasted... government really needs to function today. Government needs to perform. It is a matter of life and death. Wasting energy on distractions is the last thing state government should be doing.
'I cannot be the cause of that.... given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government.
Cuomo had been facing impeachment by the New York State Assembly - a process that would have taken months and, he said, cost millions in precious tax payer dollars.
Lindsey Boylan said Cuomo harassed her with inappropriate remarks then launched a smear campaign against her when she quit in 2018. Brittany Commisso says Cuomo groped her breast in his office in November 2020
The Judiciary Committee investigating him wasn't just looking at the sexual harassment claims, but also his handling of nursing home deaths in COVID-19, whether he used state resources write and promote his book, or if he gave his family early access to COVID-19 tests when they were hard to come by.
The sexual harassment allegations began last December with the tweets of Lindsey Boylan, a former staffer who says he made inappropriate remarks to her.
The most serious allegation is that of Brittany Commisso, who says he groped her breast in the Executive Mansion in November 2020.
Cuomo denies her claim but he admitted making inappropriate comments to some of the women, saying it's his way of speaking to people.
On Tuesday he specifically apologized to the state trooper who says he 'touched her belly' and ran his finger down her back and said if he did ever touch her, it was his way of thanking her for her service.
'The report said I sexually harassed 11 women, the reaction was outrage. It should have been. However it was also false. My lawyers have reviewed the report and raised serious issues and flaws that should concern all New Yorkers.
'When there is a lack of fairness it is a concern for everyone. The most serious allegations made against me have no credible factual basis. There is a difference between alleged improper conduct and concluding sexual misconduct. This is not to say there are not 11 women who I truly offended.
'There are and for that I deeply, deeply apologize.'
Cuomo with accuser Brittany Commisso in his office. She says he had just rubbed her backside for five seconds before they took this photo
He went on to suggest that #MeToo has gone too far and that he didn't understand what would now be considered inappropriate.
'In my mind, I've never crossed the line with anyone but I didn't realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.
'There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn't fully appreciate. And I should have. No excuses,' he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Cuomo's attorney Rita Glavin gave a press conference where she again tried to undermine the women's allegations and say James' investigation was biased.
Glavin used a slideshow that was similar to the type Cuomo uses to give COVID-19 updates to chip away at the women's claims.
She asked why only 41 of the 179 witness interviews in the report have been transcribed and made public, and said the AG left out 'favorable evidence that did not support the narrative'.
One of the most problematic claims, she said, was that of the doctor who gave Cuomo his COVID-19 test last March on camera at one of his press conferences.
He told her "you make that gown look good", referring to her PPE. The Governor made a joke to the doctor in the hospital gown.
Protected against COVID while she gave him a test.
'He said in front of the whole world, "you make that gown look good." That's not sexual harassment. I don't know why that was included in the report except to add another number and make the governor look bad,' Glavin said.
She added that investigators failed to interview key witnesses who could have contested the women's allegations and that it was a deliberate attempt to oust him.
'I don't mean to take away from how this woman felt but we do need to think qualitatively about what these women say.'
She pointed to a selfie that Brittany Commisso took with Cuomo, after he allegedly 'rubbed her butt' and said that it does not show her looking uncomfortable.
'For me as a lawyer, as a former prosecutor, I often use pictures as exhibits at trial. The Governor did not violate Brittany Commisso, he did not rub her rear end before this photo.
'I think this picture demonstrates the comfort level of someone who wanted a selfie with the Governor.
'She sent this to her friend, and there is a footnote, her friend said: "I'm so jealous."
'Men should also be believed and treated fairly. All people should be given that and everybody should have a chance to respond.
'Everybody should be scrutinized by facts and context. That hasn't happened here. Our country has a rule of law. I believe in the rule of law. Not mob mentality and not media mentality.
'The Governor deserves to be treated fairly and that did not happen here,' Glavin said. he is who will now represent him in any criminal cases and lawsuits.
Among those to celebrate Cuomo's resignation on Tuesday was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was regularly overruled by Cuomo during the pandemic.
In a statement to the press less than an hour after Cuomo resigned, de Blasio said: 'Make no mistake, this is the result of survivors bravely telling their stories.
'It was past time for Andrew Cuomo to resign and it’s for the good of all New York.'