NEW YORK (AFP) - New York governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed "multiple women," the state's attorney-general Letitia James said on Tuesday (Aug 3) as she announced the findings of an independent investigation into the powerful Democrat that prompted immediate calls for his resignation.
The explosive report, which was swiftly made public, details allegations by 11 women that paint a "deeply disturbing yet clear" picture of a pattern of abusive behaviour by the governor and his senior staff, James said - allegations which Cuomo himself quickly denied.
It was not clear if he would face criminal prosecution, with James saying the investigation was "civil in nature."
The five-month investigation "concluded that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and in doing so violated federal and state law," James told a news conference.
She said Cuomo "sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous comments of a suggestive sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women."
The investigation also found that Cuomo and his senior team took retaliatory action against at least one former employee for coming forward with her story, she said.
Cuomo issued an unequivocal denial and gave no indication that he was considering his position.
"First, I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances," he said in a televised statement.
"I am 63 years old. I have lived my entire adult live in public view. That is just not who I am. And that's not who I ever been."
He said that he had published a response to every allegation made by the women against him on his website, adding: "Please take the time to read the facts and decide for yourself."
And he suggested that resignation was not on his mind, saying: "What matters to me at the end of the day is getting the most done I can for you.
"And that is what I do every day. And I will not be distracted from that job. We have a lot to do."
In recent months, multiple women have publicly denounced what they said were inappropriate words and gestures from Cuomo, who drew praise nationwide for his pandemic response early in the crisis.
In March, President Joe Biden said that if the accusations against Cuomo are proven he should go.
'Climate of fear'
Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, was one of the first to call for Cuomo to face consequences over the report.
"Governor Cuomo must resign and be arrested immediately," she tweeted.
New York lawmakers also reacted swiftly, with state senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins saying it "should be clear to everyone that he can no longer serve as governor."
Carl Heastie, speaker of the New York assembly, said the report would be examined by lawmakers but appeared to demonstrate Cuomo was "not fit for office."
The investigators released some details of the allegations against Cuomo during the news conference.
One former employee said the charismatic, media-friendly politician slipped his hand under her blouse last year, while a trooper on Cuomo's protective detail said he inappropriately touched her stomach and hip.
His conduct was "not just old fashioned affection and behaviour as he and some of his staff would have it, but unlawful sex-based harassment," said Anne Clark, one of the lawyers heading the investigation.
She said that Cuomo himself responded to investigators with "a mixture of admitting to certain things but putting a different spin on them and denying others."
But none of the women welcomed his attentions, the other lawyer leading the probe, Joon Kim, said. "All of them found it disturbing, humiliating, uncomfortable and inappropriate."
Clark detailed one incident where Cuomo prepared a letter he wanted to release to the press attacking one of the alleged victims, though he was ultimately persuaded not to.
And Kim said Cuomo and his staff fostered a "climate of fear" that kept women from speaking out. "It was a culture where you could not say no to the governor," he said.
The investigators said that at least one report has been made to police about Cuomo's behaviour, and that their findings could be used in any criminal investigations.
The women involved can also decide whether they want to sue Cuomo, they said.
James praised the women, saying the investigation had found that all 11 were credible.
"I am inspired by all the brave women who came forward. But more importantly, I believe them," she said.