ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide resigned Sunday in another sign of the Democrat’s increasing isolation after an investigation overseen by the state’s attorney general concluded he sexually harassed 11 women.
Melissa DeRosa, who had been one of Cuomo’s most fierce defenders and strategists, said in a statement sent to multiple new organizations that serving the people of New York had been “the greatest honor of my life.”
But she added that “Personally, the past two years have been emotionally and mentally trying.”
She didn’t give a more specific reason for her resignation.
“I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such talented and committed colleagues on behalf of our state,” she said.
DeRosa’s departure comes as Cuomo has dug in for the fight of his political life despite the threat of criminal investigations and widespread calls for his impeachment.
Scores of Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have urged him to leave office or face an impeachment battle he probably cannot win.
About two-thirds of state Assembly members have already said they favor 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.
More punishing news for the governor is expected Monday, when “CBS This Morning” is scheduled to broadcast the first TV interview from an executive assistant who accused Cuomo of groping her breast.
In her first public interview in which she identified herself, Brittany Commisso told CBS and the Times-Union newspaper, of Albany, that what Cuomo did was a crime and that he “needs to be held accountable.”
Commisso has said Cuomo reached under her shirt and fondled her when they were alone in a room at the Executive Mansion last year and on another occasion rubbed her rear end while they posed for a photo. She was the first woman to file a criminal complaint against Cuomo.
“He broke the law,” she said in an excerpt of an interview scheduled to be aired in full on Monday.
Cuomo — who for months said the public would be “shocked” once he shared his side of the story — has largely been holed up in the governor’s mansion since the release of a 168-page report written by two independent attorneys who were selected by the state attorney general to investigate.
He’s denied touching any women inappropriately. His attorneys have attacked the credibility and motives of his accusers.
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.
She appeared by his side in most of his news briefings and often fielded policy questions from reporters when the governor didn’t know enough details to answer.
DeRosa was mentioned 187 times in the attorney general’s report, which detailed the administration’s efforts to discredit some of his accusers.
The investigators’ report revealed some tension between DeRosa and Cuomo: She told investigators she was so upset with the way Cuomo had handled a conversation about sexual assault with one of his accusers, former aide Charlotte Bennett, that she angrily got out of his car when it stopped at a traffic light.
“She told the governor, ‘I can’t believe that this happened. I can’t believe you put yourself in a situation where you would be having any version of this conversation,’” the report said.
The governor’s lawyers have promised what will likely be a drawn-out fight to stay in office, and few see him as willing to quit.
“My sense is from what I’m hearing is he’s still looking for ways to fight this and get his side of the story out,” state Democratic party Chairman Jay Jacobs said in an interview with The Associated Press. But Jacobs added: “I just think that he’s going to, at some point, see that the political support is just not anywhere near enough to even make an attempt worthwhile.”
Cuomo lawyer, Rita Glavin, told CNN on Saturday that he had no plans to resign.
She called the attorney general’s report “shoddy” and “biased” and “an ambush.”
Dozens of state lawmakers who were once hesitant to call for Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment told the AP in recent interviews that they were swayed by the heft of the report.
“I think the majority of us feel that the governor is not in a position to lead the state any longer, and that’s not a temporary position,” said Assembly member John McDonald, a Democrat whose district includes Albany.
Cuomo has flat-out denied that he ever touched anyone inappropriately, but he acknowledged hugging and kissing aides and other individuals.
Glavin said it’s clear to Cuomo that people who “worked for him felt that he was invading their space and that it was unwanted.”
“He doesn’t believe it was inappropriate,” Glavin said. “He has seen what these women have said, and he does feel badly about this.”
Meanwhile, the state Assembly’s judiciary committee planned to meet Monday to discuss when to conclude its monthslong investigation into whether there are grounds to impeach Cuomo.
The investigation has focused on sexual harassment and misconduct, the administration’s past refusal to release how many nursing home residents died of COVID-19, the use of state resources for Cuomo’s $5 million book deal and efforts to prioritize COVID-19 tests for the governor’s inner circle in spring 2020, when testing was scarce.
Some lawmakers want an impeachment vote in days, but committee members say the probe could wrap up in a month. State law requires at least 30 days between an Assembly impeachment vote and Senate impeachment trial.
Assembly member Amanda Septimo called for urgency.
“What we need to do the soonest is to get Cuomo out of power because of the way he uses it, like a weapon,” the Bronx Democrat said.
Democrats are increasingly worried about how Cuomo will affect political races in New York and potentially nationally, Septimo said.
“I’m willing to put money on how soon we see Cuomo’s face on an attack mailer somewhere in Ohio,” she said. “I feel like everyone’s calculus is bigger than themselves at this point, besides the governor.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would take over for Cuomo if a majority of the 150-member Assembly votes to impeach him.
Cuomo championed a sweeping law he signed in 2019 that mandated anti-harassment training, extended the statute of limitations and declared that accusers do not have to prove they were treated differently than other workers. It also lowered New York’s standard for sexual harassment to include unwanted conduct that rises above the level of “petty slights and trivial inconveniences.”
Many lawmakers have criticized the governor for failing to acknowledge that his unwelcome remarks and touching violated his administration’s own definition of sexual harassment, which is based on how a person feels despite the perpetrator’s intent.
Cuomo also faces scrutiny from federal prosecutors over his administration’s handling of COVID-19 nursing home data. And the state ethics commission is looking into the same issues that the Assembly is investigating.
In addition, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said Saturday that Cuomo could face misdemeanor charges if investigators substantiate Commisso’s complaint. At least five district attorneys have asked for materials from the attorney general’s inquiry to see if any of the allegations could result in criminal charges.
The investigation concluded that Cuomo sexually harassed a state trooper with unwanted touching and suggestive remarks, a previously unknown account. Investigators found that the governor wanted to assign the trooper to his security detail after briefly meeting her, even though she lacked qualifications for the job.
Cuomo plans to address the allegation “very, very soon,” Glavin said.
She defended the governor’s interest as an effort to increase diversity after he found the trooper “impressive” for maintaining eye contact with him in a conversation.
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