In December 2020, Lindsey Boylan, a former staffer to New York governor Andrew Cuomo, accused him on Twitter of sexually harassing her “for years.” Days later, close allies of the governor reportedly began circulating a letter that would deny her claims and attempt to damage her credibility.
According to the New York Times, Cuomo’s team intended to have female former aides sign the letter denying that his office was a site of frequent harassment, and to attack Boylan’s credibility in the midst of her run for Manhattan borough president. The letter included personnel complaints filed against her, attempted to link her to “lawyers and financial backers of Donald Trump,” and claimed that she was lying as a way of seeking “political retribution” and to benefit her career. “Weaponizing a claim of sexual harassment for personal political gain or to achieve notoriety cannot be tolerated,” the letter concluded. “False claims demean the veracity of credible claims.” According to one source familiar with the process, Cuomo was involved in creating the letter, which was never released.
Crucially, the Times reports that officials in Cuomo’s office were aware at the time that another aide had accused the governor of sexual harassment. Six months earlier, Charlotte Bennett told two senior officials that Cuomo had harassed her, asking if she was monogamous and if she slept with older men. Bennett came forward in late February as the second woman to accuse Cuomo of misconduct, days after Boylan elaborated on her claims in a Medium essay, alleging that the governor would repeatedly try to touch her arms, legs, and lower back, and once suggested they “play strip poker.”
The timeline of the document suggests that top Cuomo staffers were attempting to tarnish the reputation of the first accuser as a way to potentially halt other women from publicly stating allegations of sexual harassment. Its content is consistent with the workplace harassment intimidation tactics that were known as a feature of the Cuomo administration for years before the recent harassment scandal unfurled.
As the governor’s crisis in Albany develops at a rapid clip, Cuomo has publicly resisted the chorus of resignation calls he is facing from New York Democrats, reportedly focusing on hanging on through the crisis by attempting to keep Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie from joining those who have asked him to step aside. On Tuesday night, President Biden — who previously said he was awaiting the results of an investigation by New York attorney general Letitia James — said that Cuomo should resign if James’s inquiry confirms the allegations. “I think he’ll probably end up being prosecuted,” Biden added, if the investigation determines the governor sexually harassed aides.