Moments after New York’s attorney general released a 165-page report on Tuesday following a five-month investigation into whether Governor Andrew Cuomo had sexually harassed and assaulted members of his staff, two seemingly contradictory things were true.
Yes, it was a bombshell report. But it would likely change nothing, at least in the short term.
Years after the #MeToo movement took place, and in the months since the first allegations of sexual misconduct emerged against Cuomo last December, we may be seeing a new playbook for handling scandals and calls for resignation.
Here are three main takeaways from the report.
1. The report reinforced much of what we already knew
The first former staffer to come forward about unwanted advances by the governor did so in December. Then there was another. Eventually four. The report that came out on Tuesday detailed allegations from 11 women who say they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Cuomo. The details of each case deserve their own retelling, but the new cases, including one involving a state trooper Cuomo apparently got assigned to his security detail, fit the same pattern as before.
The report was extensive. It featured 179 interviews, including with Cuomo, who was questioned for 11 hours. But none of it changed the storyline about the governor, especially in the eyes of his critics.
2. Cuomo is still governor and maybe that is the point
Let’s be clear: the Democratic Party is united on this issue. Cuomo has faced calls to resign from all corners of the party, except for one legislator in the Bronx. This includes the entire New York Congressional delegation and both US senators. And late Tuesday afternoon, President Biden called on Cuomo to resign.
Cuomo didn’t take their advice. In not resigning he basically cemented a new playbook for politicians facing calls for accountability. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam didn’t resign despite widespread calls to do so after decades-old pictures emerged of him wearing blackface. He simply apologized and said he would do better. He is still governor today.
Trump faced pressure from members of his own party many times to just quit. Trump even had a meeting about doing so in the wake of the Access Hollywood video just weeks before the 2016 election. He didn’t quit the campaign and became president. And as president, he faced even more allegations, including sexual misconduct, and he even got impeached twice. Nixon may have resigned to avoid that but Trump stuck around.
In the future, one can easily see the next politician facing a scandal looking at these examples and thinking that maybe they can stick around. They have little to lose in doing so.
3. The future is very unclear
In the past a report like this would give some sense of finality. But after Cuomo’s defiance, there are just questions about the future. New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said after the report was released that the legislature would move as quickly as possible toward impeachment, but who knows how long that would take or what complications might arise. Cuomo’s lieutenant governor sent out a strong statement that no one is above the law, but does that mean she will resign or announce a bid to run for governor against Cuomo? And while the New York attorney general’s office didn’t file any charges against Cuomo, will local prosecutors?
Then there is the question about Cuomo himself. Does he see his political situation getting any better if he stays in office? He has been raising money to seek a fourth term next year, but what does that even look like? It’s actually a more complicated question than one might think given that his approval rating has more or less held up since the allegations came out.