ALBANY, N.Y. — In his first face-to-face encounter with journalists in months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday flatly denied he had done anything inappropriate with any of the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct and harassment.
Speaking to reporters at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, the Democrat abandoned his past approach of expressing contrition for some past behavior while declining to address whether specific allegations were true.
“You were in those rooms. You know the truth. So can you tell the people of the state of New York yes or no? Did you do the things you were accused of?” asked New York Times reporter Jesse McKinley.
“To put it very simply, no.” Cuomo said.
“All the groping, the sexual harassment, you deny all of that?” McKinley said.
“That’s right. Yes,” Cuomo said.
Several current and former state employees and other women have accused Cuomo of making unwanted sexual remarks and advances, giving them unwanted kisses or touching them inappropriately.
One female aide said Cuomo groped her breasts after summoning her to his official residence.
Before Monday, Cuomo had repeatedly denied he touched anyone inappropriately. He’s said “sorry” for making some people uncomfortable with comments or gestures he claimed were playful.
Cuomo said he likes to hug and kiss people because of his Italian-American heritage.
Asked if he would consider disciplining himself or resigning if the state attorney general, who is investigating the claims, reports he did harass women, Cuomo dismissed that possibility.
“The report can’t say anything different because I didn’t do anything wrong,” Cuomo said.
This was the first time Cuomo has allowed a group of journalists to question him in person since sexual harassment allegations surfaced in December.
For months, citing COVID-19 precautions, he has taken questions only via telephone or internet conference calls — forums where his staff can control who asks questions and journalists often aren’t allowed to ask follow-up queries.
A lawyer for Charlotte Bennett, a former aide who accused Cuomo of hitting on her while they worked together, said the governor’s new claim he did nothing wrong was “revisionist history.”
“Just weeks ago he admitted numerous times to making ‘jokes’ and other inappropriate comments to Ms. Bennett, which are defined as sexual harassment under the very policies he enacted,” the attorney, Debra Katz, said.
“Does he really not understand that sexually propositioning a 25 year-old staffer after making inappropriate comments of a sexual nature is illegal?” she asked.
Cuomo has defied calls for his resignation from many of New York’s most influential Democrats, including most members of the state’s congressional delegation and a majority of state lawmakers.
He has urged the public to await the results of investigations being conducted by Attorney General Letitia James and the state Assembly’s judiciary committee, which is exploring whether there are grounds to impeach him.
James and the legislative committee are also investigating whether Cuomo used state resources for his book on pandemic leadership. And the Assembly committee and federal prosecutors are scrutinizing his administration’s months-long refusal to release how many nursing home residents died of COVID-19 in all.
Marina Villeneuve, The Associated Press