NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation on Tuesday (Aug 10), bowing to pressure to leave office or face impeachment in the face of multiple sexual-harassment allegations.
Mr Cuomo said in an appearance in New York City that he would leave office in 14 days and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would take over. He maintained that he did not harass anyone but was "thoughtless" in the way he spoke to and touched women on his staff.
"In my mind, I've never crossed the line with anyone," said Mr Cuomo, 63. "But I didn't realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn."
The move marks a stunning denouement to a decades-long political career.
Mr Cuomo had dug in, refusing to leave office even after New York Attorney-General Letitia James found that he had violated multiple federal and state harassment laws. County prosecutors are weighing criminal charges, while accusers are considering civil lawsuits.
A year ago, Mr Cuomo was riding high, winning praise for his coronavirus response and talked about as a potential presidential candidate.
But in recent months, his reputation soured as multiple women made claims that included unsolicited hugs, kisses and touches, questions about their sex lives, even an invitation to play strip poker while on a government plane.
The most serious accusation, under criminal investigation by the Albany County sheriff, alleged the governor had groped an aide at his executive mansion.
Mr Cuomo also has faced investigations that his administration covered up Covid-19 nursing-home deaths, provided relatives with virus testing before it was widely available, mishandled construction of the Mario Cuomo Bridge and misused public resources while accepting US$5 million (S$6.8 million) to write a book, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic".
Mr Cuomo on Tuesday apologised to the 11 women that the attorney-general said he harassed.
He called the report "false" but said his decision to leave was in the best interest of the people of New York.
He said he did not intentionally sexually harass anyone and accepts "full responsibility" if he offended anyone.
"The report said I sexually harassed 11 women. That was the headline people heard and saw and reacted to. The reaction was outrage - it should have been - however it was also false," he said.
Mr Cuomo had released a taped statement after Ms James released her report last Tuesday but has been holed up in the Executive Mansion in Albany and has resisted called to resign from US President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders around the country.
On Tuesday, Mr Cuomo took a helicopter to Manhattan, according to television footage aired on NY1.
He said that his "instinct is to fight through this controversy because I believe it's politically motivated", but that he did not want to subject the state to drawn-out impeachment proceedings.
His personal lawyer Rita Glavin on Tuesday said Mr Cuomo was not given a chance to respond to the claims and spent nearly an hour in a press briefing going through each of the women's accusations outlined by the report.
She said that Ms James' report omitted key evidence, got facts wrong and was meant to "devastate Governor Cuomo".
"The investigators acted as the prosecutors, the judge, and the jury," she said in a virtual press briefing.
Mr Cuomo faces possible criminal charges and impeachment proceedings, which state Assembly members said they were working towards during a meeting on Monday.
Lawmakers gave Mr Cuomo a Friday deadline to provide evidence and further testimony, which Ms Glavin said she did not know how she could do without copies of interview transcripts and other evidence contained in the attorney general's report that has not been provided to Mr Cuomo's lawyers.
"How are we going to be able to do that by a fair and meaningful way?" she said without expanding on whether or not the governor would submit documents before the Friday deadline.
Regarding the state trooper on the governor's personal detail that said Mr Cuomo sexually harassed her, Ms Glavin said that Mr Cuomo "feels very badly and he apologies for anything that he did to make her feel that way".
She also said Mr Cuomo does not dispute hugging or kissing current and former staffers but that it did not rise to the level of sexual harassment or "grooming".
"Yes, he would hug them as he does many of his staffers and yes, he would give them a kiss. The governor said over and over that he did not grope. He did not fondle," Ms Glavin said.
"He did not have a sense that either of them was uncomfortable," she added, referring to two aides who accused him of sexual harassment.