“Maybe to him, he thought this was normal. But to me and the other women that he did this to, well, it was not normal. It was not welcomed. And it was certainly not consensual.”
That was Brittany Commisso, an executive assistant for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, alleging that the Democratic leader groped her in the executive mansion last year.
Commisso, 32, gave a joint interview with “CBS This Morning” and the Albany Times Union that went viral on Monday morning. She described escalating incidents of sexual harassment since 2017 that are among the most serious allegations against the governor listed in state Attorney General Letitia James’ report last week. That investigation found that Cuomo harassed 11 women, mostly current or former state employees.
Cuomo has repeatedly denied making any inappropriate sexual advances to anyone, and his lawyer released a statement on Friday calling the attorney general’s report “unfair and inaccurate.” But the governor announced on Tuesday that he will be resigning in 14 days, at which point lieutenant governor Kathy Hochul will become the governor of New York.
Commisso, who is referred to as “Executive Assistant #1” in the 165-page attorney general report, alleges that the governor starting “rubbing my butt” while the two were taking a selfie in December 2019, and that he put his hand under her shirt and grabbed her breast in the governor’s mansion last November. She also described incidents when she said that he would hug her and kiss her without her consent. Her claims are among the most serious allegations made against the governor.
Cuomo and his lawyer have said that chaste hugging and kissing is how the governor has long interacted with both men and women as a way to “connect with others.” Cuomo also told investigators that Commisso initiated the hugs, which she denies.
“These were not hugs that he would give his mother or his brother,” she told CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. “These were hugs with the intention of getting some personal sexual satisfaction out of. Then they started to be hugs with kisses on the cheek. Then there was at one point a hug, and then when he went to go kiss me on the cheek, he quickly turned his head and he kissed me on the lips.”
Commisso said that she didn’t come forward sooner because she feared retaliation, and also wanted to protect her daughter. “People don’t understand that this is the governor of the state of New York,” she said. “There are troopers that are outside of the mansion. They are not there to protect me. They are there to protect him. I felt as though if I did something to insult him, especially insult him in his own home, I wasn’t going to be him that was going to get fired or in trouble.”
She filed a criminal complaint against Cuomo last week, after months of “processing this whole thing,” she said, because she wants him to be held accountable. “He almost has this smirk that he thinks that he’s untouchable,” Commisso said. “I almost feel like he has this sense of almost a celebrity status and it just — that was the tipping point. I broke down. I said ‘He is lying.’”
“I felt like he was personally saying it to me that ‘I never touched anyone inappropriately,’” she said. “And, yes, you did.”
Commisso’s comments added to the increasing pressure for Cuomo to step down, as Democratic leaders including President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on him to resign. Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, resigned on Sunday. And Cuomo himself has officially resigned in the best interest of the state. “Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government,” Cuomo said on Tuesday.
What’s more, the New York Assembly Judiciary Committee met on Monday to discuss impeachment proceedings against the governor. Cuomo has until the end of this week to submit evidence in his defense in connection with a State Assembly impeachment probe, and about two-thirds of state Assembly members have said they favor an impeachment trial if he refuses to go.