Assistant to N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo details allegations of groping
Brittany Commisso's allegations aired hours after resignation of Melissa DeRosa, a powerful Cuomo aide
An executive assistant who accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of groping her said in her first televised interview that she was initially afraid to identify herself because she worried the governor's "enablers" would destroy her if she spoke up.
Brittany Commisso detailed her interactions with the Democrat in a joint interview with CBS This Morning and The Times Union of Albany. Commisso told the outlets what Cuomo did was a crime and that he "needs to be held accountable."
Commisso said Cuomo groped her for the first time on Dec. 31, 2019, when the governor suggested the two take a selfie together. She had been working in the governor's office for two years at that point.
"He was to my left. I was on the right. With my right hand, I took the selfie. I then felt while taking the selfie, his hand go down my back onto my butt, and he started rubbing it. Not sliding it. Not, you know, quickly brushing over it — rubbing my butt."
Commisso said Cuomo groped her a second time at the governor's mansion in November 2020.
After shutting the door, "He came back to me, and that's when he put his hand up my blouse and cupped my breast over my bra," she said.
Until now, the public hasn't heard her tell her own story.
"I was afraid that if I had to come forward and revealed my name, that the governor and his enablers, I like to call them, would viciously attack me, would smear my name, as I had seen and heard them do before to people," said Commisso, now 32.
WATCH | New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo denies findings of sexual harassment investigation:
She said she also wanted to protect her daughter, but now feels speaking out shows her that "she has a voice."
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual misconduct unless they speak out publicly, as Commisso has done.
Impeachment process needs to be 'airtight': speaker
Scores of Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have urged Cuomo to leave office or face an impeachment battle. The calls came after the release last week of a 168-page report written by two independent attorneys selected by the state attorney general that included detailed allegations of Cuomo sexually harassing 11 women.
Cuomo has denied touching any women inappropriately and the governor's lawyers have promised what will likely be a drawn-out fight to stay in office.
But about two-thirds of state Assembly members have already said they favour an impeachment trial if he refuses to resign. Nearly all 63 members of the state Senate have called for Cuomo to step down or be removed.
The Assembly's judiciary committee met in executive session, behind closed doors, Monday to discuss how to wrap up an ongoing probe of Cuomo's conduct with women, and of other matters, including the use of staff to help with his $5 million US book deal and his administration's decision to withhold full statistics on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes from the public.
After emerging, committee chair and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie promised to wrap up their inquiry and potentially have a vote on articles of impeachment "within weeks."
The judiciary committee will continue to meet in private through at least Aug. 23 to discuss the evidence. They plan to have public hearings featuring testimony from experts on sexual harassment and on impeachment procedures. Any vote to start an impeachment trial would then trigger a 30-day period for Cuomo to respond.
Read the report from the office of the New York Attorney General:
Lavine said the committee wanted to make sure any articles of impeachment were "airtight."
"I anticipate the governor and his attorneys will challenge everything," he said.
2 high-profile resignations
The Commisso interview came just hours after the resignation of Melissa DeRosa, one of Cuomo's most fierce defenders and strategists.
DeRosa, who often defended Cuomo when he faced public criticism, had been with the administration since 2013. She got the title "secretary to the governor" in 2017, and was probably the most recognizable face in the administration after Cuomo.
DeRosa was mentioned 187 times in the attorney general's report, which detailed the administration's efforts to discredit some of his accusers.
The report described DeRosa as a central figure in his office's retaliation against one of the women, Lindsey Boylan, after she became the first person to speak out publicly. The administration released internal memos showing that Boylan had, herself, been the subject of complaints about toxic workplace behaviour.
Meanwhile, Time's Up leader Roberta Kaplan resigned from that organization on Monday, citing her work counselling the Cuomo administration last winter and her more recent legal work representing DeRosa.
Kaplan was the chair of the board of directors of Time's Up and co-founder of the Time's Up Legal Defence Fund, which aids women who have experienced sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. She has also represented E. Jean Carroll — who has accused Donald Trump of raping her in the 1990s — in Carroll's defamation suit against Trump.