New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigns over sexual harassment scandal, will leave office in 2 weeks

Key Points
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned a week after an investigation concluded he sexually harassed 11 women.
  • His shocking announcement came minutes after his lawyer again flatly denied claims that he had sexually harassed anyone during the Democrat's three terms in office.
  • Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will replace Cuomo, becoming the Empire State's first female governor.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will resign in two weeks amid sexual harassment scandal
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will resign in two weeks amid sexual harassment scandal

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he will resign effective in two weeks because of a sexual harassment scandal that has crippled his administration, saying he did not want to distract the state from important work to be done.

Cuomo's shocking announcement in a livestream from his Manhattan office came minutes after his lawyer again flatly denied claims that he had sexually harassed anyone during his three terms in office.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will replace Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, and become the Empire State's first female governor.

Cuomo's resignation comes one week after a damning report issued by the state Attorney General's office found he had sexually harassed at least 11 current and former staffers, including a state police trooper assigned to his protective detail and women outside of government.

It also comes as at least five district attorney's offices around the state have begun probes of possible crimes by Cuomo against some of the women.

Cuomo, 63, said he was motivated to step down to avoid months of distraction for the state, which is continuing to deal with the Covid pandemic, from an all-but-certain impeachment over the allegations.

"Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government," Cuomo said.

"And therefore that is what I'll do, because I work for you, and doing the right thing, is doing the right thing for you."

While continuing to deny some of the more serious claims, Cuomo conceded he had offended some of his accusers with what he considered friendly or incidental physical contact and comments that were normal for men of his generation.

"In my mind, I have never crossed the line with anyone," he said. "But I didn't realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn."

"Thank you for letting me serve you. It has been the honor of a lifetime," Cuomo said. "God bless you."

Hochul, who is from the Buffalo area and turn 63 this month, tweeted: "I agree with Governor Cuomo's decision to step down. It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers."

"As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State's 57th Governor," she said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden had not talked to Hochul about Cuomo's resignation but added: "We look forward to working with her."

Biden, who had called for Cuomo to resign, himself later said that, "I respect the governor's decision."

"He's done a hell of a job," Biden said. "A hell of a job ... that's why it's so sad."

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at Westchester stands united against anti-semitism and hate rally at Jewish Community Center of Mid-Westchester.
Lev Radin | LightRocket | Getty Images

A week ago Tuesday, Attorney General Letitia James, herself a Democrat, said Cuomo had broken state and federal laws with his conduct, which she asserted included unwanted touching and remarks that made the women feel uncomfortable.

In a CBS News interview that aired Monday, Cuomo executive assistant Brittany Commisso described how the governor had groped her breast in one incident, and then rubbed her rear end during another encounter in the Executive Mansion in Albany after he suggested they take a selfie photo together.

"What he did to me was a crime. He broke the law," Commisso said.

In a statement after Cuomo's announcement, James said: "Today closes a sad chapter for all of New York, but it's an important step towards justice."

"I thank Governor Cuomo for his contributions to our state. The ascension of our Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, will help New York enter a new day," James added.

"We must continue to build on the progress already made and improve the lives of New Yorkers in every corner of the state. I know our state is in good hands with Lieutenant Governor Hochul at the helm, and I look forward to continuing to work with her."

Cuomo's decision to quit follows calls for his resignation from a wave of fellow Democrats, including Biden and members of the state's congressional delegation — among them, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand — and members of New York's legislature.

On Sunday, Cuomo's top aide, Melissa DeRosa, who had been accused in the AG's report of being a key figure in an effort to smear one of the governor's most prominent accusers, resigned.

After the AG's report was issued, Hochul said she believed Cuomo's accusers, and called the governor's behavior toward those women "repulsive and unlawful."

Cuomo strongly denied the women's claims and said the probe was tainted by bias against him and by politics.

On Tuesday, Cuomo emotionally referred to his own three daughters, saying, "I want them to know, from the bottom of my heart: I never did, and I never would, intentionally disrespect a woman or treat a woman differently than I would want them treated."

"Your dad made mistakes. And he apologized. And he learned from it. And that's what life is all about," Cuomo said.

In a statement before Cuomo's announcement, his lawyer, Rita Glavin, accused the lawyers who helped conduct James' investigation of having a preconceived notion that Cuomo had acted inappropriately. She said they disregarded evidence that undercut the claims.

"I think that women should be believed and treated fairly," Glavin said. "I also believe that men should be believed and treated fairly. All people should be given that."

"The governor deserves to be treated fairly. and that did not happen here."

After Cuomo said he would quit, Democratic Sen. James Skoufis, who represents a district in Orange County, New York, said the state Assembly should still consider impeaching Cuomo, which would allow the Senate to convict him and thus bar and barring him from holding future state office.

"You don't have to go too far back into impeachment history to see precedent for moving forward with impeachment after the elected official has left office," Skoufis told NBC News's Meet The Press Daily, in a reference to the impeachment of former President Donald Trump earlier this year.

Cuomo is the latest high-level New York Democratic politician to be felled by a sex scandal.

In 2008, Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned after revelations that had paid for sex from a prostitute. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner went to federal prison in late 2017 for more than a year after pleading guilty to sexting an underage girl. Eric Schneiderman resigned as state attorney general in 2018 after four women accused him of physical abuse. Schneiderman had succeeded Cuomo as attorney general.

Cuomo's resignation came five months after the harassment allegations against him exploded into public view.

His fall represents a stunning turnaround from his political fortunes in 2020, when his handling of the Covid pandemic was widely praised and he was given a lucrative book deal to write about his management of it.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking August 10, 2021.
Source: The State of New York

The governor also was mentioned as a possible running mate for Biden or a potential attorney general in the new administration.

For months, Cuomo had resisted calls to resign, which began after several former aides — Lindsey Boylan, Charlotte Bennett and Karen Hinton — accused him of inappropriate behavior toward them.

Other women described similar conduct by Cuomo.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will resign in two weeks amid sexual harassment scandal
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will resign in two weeks amid sexual harassment scandal

After James released her report, the Albany County District Attorney's Office said it was conducting a criminal investigation and would request investigative materials collected as part of the attorney general's probe.

The governor, while claiming "I never touched anyone inappropriately" or intended to make women uncomfortable, acknowledged in March that he had "acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable."

On March 11, the Democratic speaker of the state Assembly, Carl Heastie, authorized an impeachment inquiry into Cuomo's conduct by the Judiciary Committee.

From dynasty to downfall

Cuomo is a son of the late three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo.

He previously was New York's attorney general and as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration.

Cuomo has three daughters with his ex-wife, Kerry Kennedy, whose own father, Robert Kennedy, served as U.S. attorney general under his brother President John Kennedy and was assassinated while running for president in 1968.

Cuomo became a national star last year.

The governor had been lauded for his matter-of-fact press conferences detailing the grim toll of Covid-19, his frequent admonitions to take precautions from becoming infected and his empathetic reaction to the human toll from the pandemic.

Cuomo's banter-laden interviews about Covid with his own brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, won some gushing reviews, were fodder for late-night comedians and provided grist for criticism from media ethicists.

The governor's press conferences were frequently contrasted with those of then-President Donald Trump, who was criticized for questioning the guidance of his own medical advisors and repeatedly downplayed the danger of the virus. The New York governor won an Emmy late last year for his televised performances.

But Cuomo's Covid management — and his aggressive government management style overall — also carried the seeds of his political destruction.

At odds with his own party

Although he easily won reelection twice, Cuomo long alienated many Democrats and progressives in the state.

Democratic state lawmakers also have been resentful for Cuomo's past tacit alliance with a small clique Democratic senators who for years effectively handed control of the state Senate to Republicans even though Democrats held a majority of seats.

For his entire political career, Cuomo has had a micromanaging, take-no-prisoners manner in dealing with opponents and would-be allies who are slow to bend to his will.

That style was seen in full effect in Cuomo's dealing with Assembly member Ron Kim of Queens, a Democrat who said in April the governor loudly lambasted him in a phone call to his home and threatened to "destroy" him over Kim's criticism about the lack of disclosure on Covid-related death data.

Kim and other lawmakers had been angered after hearing from top Cuomo aide DeRosa that his administration had withheld from data about deaths from Covid of nursing home residents. DeRosa claimed at the time that the data was kept hidden to avoid having it "used against us" by federal prosecutors under the command of Trump's attorney general, William Barr.

Even as Cuomo adamantly denied Kim's account of that call, he accused Kim of "unethical" conduct by supporting the owners of nail salons while the legislature discussed adopting reforms of the industry six years ago.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who himself has long been a whipping boy for the governor, called the phone call "classic Andrew Cuomo."

"A lot of people in New York state have received those phone calls," de Blasio said during an MSNBC interview.

"The bullying is nothing new. I believe Ron Kim and it's very, very sad, no public servant, no person who's telling the truth, should be treated that way. The threats, the belittling, the demand that someone change their statement right that moment ... many, many times I've heard that and I know a lot of other people in this state have heard that."

The controversy over the phone call erupted shortly before former Cuomo aide Boylan resurrected her previous claims that he had sexually harassed her.