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NEW YORK — The searing state attorney general report that corroborated sexual harassment accusations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sent many of his political allies running for the hills — but it has also exposed cracks in what’s long been thought of as an impenetrable inner circle of advisers around the governor.
Testimony, text messages, emails and even diary entries included in Attorney General Letitia James’ report revealed that several current and former Cuomo officials have complained in private about the governor’s behavior and treatment of staff.
There are even instances outlined in the report where senior aides confronted Cuomo in person about the matter.
Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, testified to James’ investigators that she blew up on the governor while they were in a car together in the wake of one of his alleged victims, Charlotte Bennett, going public with allegations of sexual harassment in February.
“I can’t believe that this happened. I can’t believe you put yourself in a situation where you would be having any version of this conversation,” DeRosa testified that she told Cuomo, according to James’ report.
On a different occasion, DeRosa and Jill DesRosiers, Cuomo’s former chief of staff, both confronted Cuomo about him using the phrase “mean girls” to refer to them and a handful of other female staffers.
“DeRosa said she told the governor to stop using the term, explaining that ‘[she] hate[s] that term’ and the governor ‘never used it again … in her presence,’” the report states.
“Ms. DesRosiers also testified that the governor ‘definitely used’ the term and that she told him ‘[she is] not a mean girl’ that she ‘hate[s] when [he] say[s] that,’ and that she wanted him to ‘cut it out.’”
Aides were even more forthcoming when not within earshot of Cuomo, the AG report suggests.
Josh Vlasto, a former Cuomo chief of staff who remains a trusted adviser and has helped him with damage control during the sexual harassment scandal, told unidentified friends in direct messages from March that the workplace culture fostered by the governor was worse than suggested by news reports at the time.
“The odd part about these workplace stories — it’s not even close to what it was really like to work there every day. It was so much worse,” Vlasto wrote in the messages, which were included as appendixes in the AG’s report.
“How so?” a friend replied.
“The abuse and mind games,” Vlasto wrote back. “But for me it never really bothered me. It was part of the deal.”
Since James’ report dropped Tuesday, just about every elected Democrat in New York has called on Cuomo to resign, citing the AG’s conclusion that he inappropriately touched or otherwise sexually harassed 11 women, many of them former or current staffers.
But also some of Cuomo’s own trusted ex-aides have urged him to get out of the political arena in light of the bombshell findings.
“After reading the AG’s devastating report that concluded Gov. Cuomo engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment, in violation of both federal and state law, he should resign,” tweeted Alphonso David, Cuomo’s former counsel who was himself at one point involved in an effort to push back on sexual harassment allegations made against the governor by former aide Lindsey Boylan.
It took going under oath for some staffers to break with the governor, James’ investigators found.
Howard Zemsky, Cuomo’s former head of economic development, added his name to a statement issued by the governor’s office in February that denied accuser Lindsey Boylan’s claim that Cuomo had asked her to play strip poker with him while onboard an airplane.
“But during our investigation … Mr. Zemsky testified that he in fact did recall the governor making a comment about ‘strip poker’ on a plane,” the AG report states. “He testified that the governor said ‘something like, “Hey, want to play strip poker?”’ and that the statement was ‘directed at Ms. Boylan.’”
For other aides, anonymity was a prerequisite for sharing their true feelings about Cuomo with James’ investigators.
Included in one of the appendixes to James’ report is a blistering diary entry from a “senior staff member” who spoke to the credibility of the accusations against the governor.
“I’m disgusted that Andrew Cuomo—a man who understands subtle power dynamics and power plays better than almost anyone in the planet—is giving this loopy excuse of not knowing he made women feel uncomfortable,” the staffer wrote in the diary entry dated March 8. “There are several orders of victims in this issue: first and foremost the women who experienced these things with him. Second though, and unrecognized are the staff. We are almost uniformly good people who killed ourselves to accomplish his agenda.”
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