LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Facing a devastating report that found he sexually harassed multiple women, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a video on Tuesday denying any wrongdoing, claiming his accusers were wrong and displaying one photo after another of himself exchanging kisses and hugs with constituents, politicians and celebrities.
One of his accusers responded that Cuomo was “victim-blaming.”
In the 14-minute video, Cuomo offered little detailed rebuttal of the specific charges, which included reaching his hand under an aide’s blouse and grabbing her breast and running his finger down a state trooper’s spine. Instead, he argued that what women described as sexual advances were inoffensive gestures and comments inspired by a natural physical warmth that came from the culture in which he was raised.
“I do it with everyone,” Cuomo, 63, said during the video. “Black and white, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, people who I meet in the street.”
Immediately after his video was released, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, renewed their calls for Cuomo’s resignation.
Cuomo was responding to a report released by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, which found that he sexually harassed multiple women in violation of state and federal law.
Sounding calm and wearing an immaculately ironed white shirt, blue tie and charcoal suit, Cuomo bolstered his defense with photographs of him kissing and embracing people in public, strangers as well as political luminaries including his late father, New York Governor Mario Cuomo, civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and former President Bill Clinton.
Cuomo specifically addressed only a few allegations, though he did post a more detailed defense from his lawyer on his website. Among accusations he addressed in his video were those from Charlotte Bennett, who worked for him last year and is a survivor of a previous sexual assault.
Cuomo spoke in the video of an unnamed family member he said was sexually assaulted. He said he was trying to help Bennett based on what he had learned about the lingering trauma sexual assault victims suffer.
“I did ask her questions I don’t normally ask people,” Cuomo said. “I did ask questions to try to see if she had positive, supportive dating relationships.”
Cuomo said Bennett and her lawyer ascribed “motives I never had and, simply put, they heard things that I just didn’t say.”
“Charlotte, I want you to know that I am truly and deeply sorry,” Cuomo said, adding that he was wrong to bring his personal experience into the workplace and that he tried and failed to help.
On Twitter, Bennett accused Cuomo of “victim-blaming” and called for his resignation.
While denying all the allegations, Cuomo also said during the video he was bringing in an expert to conduct new sexual harassment training for himself and his team.
In his video, Cuomo, who describes himself on his own Twitter account as a “father, fisherman, motorcycle enthusiast,” said: “On occasion I do slip and say ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ or ‘honey’. I do banter with people. I do tell jokes – some better than others.”
(Reporting by Tim Reid. Editing by Donna Bryson and Howard Goller)