To put it kindly, Gov. Cuomo has been on a double-barreled losing streak, one that, in the worst-case scenario, threatens to make him unemployed and a criminal defendant. It’s only fair then to acknowledge that he has won a temporary victory on one front.
Desperate to stem the rising tide of legislators calling on him to quit, Cuomo drew a red line, saying there was “no way I resign.” He also reportedly told a legislative leader that lawmakers would have to impeach him to get him out.
He was betting most are not ready to go that far, and he was right, to judge from the lack of blowback. So Cuomo gained some breathing room and could be safe until the lawyers appointed by Attorney General Letitia James complete their investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment, which might take months.
But that doesn’t mean he can expect smooth sailing, as became clear Tuesday afternoon when the Albany Times Union reported that a sixth woman, a state employee, had come forward with a new allegation. She reportedly complained to the attorney general that Cuomo inappropriately touched her during a business meeting at the Executive Mansion.
Cuomo, talking to reporters later, said he was “not aware” of the claim, which seems unlikely, but repeated his insistence that he had “never touched” anyone inappropriately.
And so it goes as the fight of Cuomo’s life takes on the appearance of a roller coaster. The governor, who had gone from hiding to apologetic to defiant as the allegations grew, has shifted gears again, and is now seen here, there and everywhere. He aims to change the subject away from the federal probe into nursing-home deaths as well as the harassment allegations by trying to show he isn’t distracted. Fat chance.
Monday, he was in Manhattan at the Javits Center, touting a record number of vaccinations over the weekend, and Tuesday, he visited a vaccination site in Syracuse. His press office is busy churning out minor releases on various subjects. He’s also lifting some COVID restrictions and making more New Yorkers eligible for vaccinations. This is what passes for good news and he’s delighted to deliver it.
It’s also a strategy with limited potential because the scandals are never far away, even as Cuomo excluded reporters from both events. Then, suddenly Tuesday afternoon, after the Times Union story landed, his office announced that he would hold a question-and-answer session by phone.
I listened in and the session gave new definition to “briefing.” As in brief.
He called on only four reporters and his answers were clipped and cleared up nothing. In fact, his curious ducking on two questions about a suspect July report on nursing-home deaths actually deepened suspicions about his role.
Asked directly if he had deleted the accurate number of deaths, he unexpectedly turned the microphone over to a lawyer, Beth Garvey. She never answered what, if any role, Cuomo played and mentioned the federal probe as a reason why she couldn’t give more details.
Her two nonanswers, combined with Cuomo’s reputation for micro-managing, leave me convinced he personally ordered the deletions. Recall that Cuomo has been desperate to deny any responsibility for the nursing-home catastrophe, and his refusal to hand over accurate numbers to the Justice Department is how he came to federal prosecutors’ attention in the first place.
In response to other questions about the harassment allegations, the governor again offered generalized and fuzzy denials, while singling out one or two specific claims to deny. Reporters need to sharpen their questions about specific allegations if they want more revealing answers.
There is also a need to focus on the possible connection of the coverup of nursing-home deaths to the book Cuomo wrote on COVID leadership and how much he was paid. Especially now that Crown Publishing has said it will not promote, reprint or issue the book in paperback because of the federal probe, the overlap in timing of the coverup and the contract are relevant and need to be addressed.
In short, there are lots of unanswered — and sometimes unasked — questions piling up.
Here are the top 10 reporters should ask Cuomo when they get the chance.
- 1. Have you or anyone in your office received a subpoena from federal prosecutors or testified before a grand jury regarding nursing-home deaths?
- 2. Why won’t you release your contract with Crown Publishing and reveal how much you have been paid for your book?
- 3. A former state employee, Lindsey Boylan, alleges you kissed her on the lips in your office? Did you?
- 4. Do you have a cigar box given to you by Bill Clinton and, if so, did you show it to Boylan?
- 5. Boylan released an e-mail from your assistant Stephanie Benton, saying you said Boylan reminded you of Lisa Shields, a former girlfriend, and that Boyland could be her better-looking sister. Did you say that to Benton and instruct her to send such an e-mail?
- 6. Did you ever call Boylan “Lisa” in front of colleagues?
- 7. Did you ask former New York State employee Charlotte Bennett if she ever had sex with older men?
- 8. Did you tell Bennett that you were open to having a relationship with a woman above the age of 22?
- 9. When and how did you first learn that Bennett had reported your behavior to Jill DesRosiers and Judith Mogul?
- 10. Did Stephanie Benton or anyone in your office take the state’s mandated training for sexual harassment on your behalf?
The best questions have the advantage of brevity and directness. Those on the harassment allegations track precise claims the women have made publicly that Cuomo has not answered.
Finally, a reminder to all reporters: There is no such thing as a dumb question. There are only dumb answers.
Iceberg, dead ahead
An over the transom quiz from a reader: What’s the difference between Andrew Cuomo and the Titanic?
The Titanic had a band.
Biden’s disastrous first days
Edwin Schindler neatly sums up much of the mayhem already caused by the Joe Biden presidency, writing:
“Hopefully, the laid-off Keystone Pipeline workers will be helped by red state governors.
“Fortunately, Israel can defend itself, even if it means destroying much of Iran using advanced conventional weapons and F-35s, or using nukes.
“Pray that the illegals overrunning the southern border kill no Americans, though this seems unlikely. Instead, hope that the damage is limited.
“As for the suburban moms in blue states who refused to vote for Donald Trump because they did not approve of his tweets, nothing makes me happier than watching them tear their hair out as their kids are shut out of school by Biden and the teachers unions, while Neanderthal-backward red states have had their schools open for months!”