ALBANY, N.Y. — Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo conceded to investigators that he made many of the comments that led to sexual harassment accusations against him, but he downplayed their significance and said some of them were taken out of context.
“I don’t have regrets,” Cuomo told investigators, according to transcripts from the probe released Wednesday by state Attorney General Tish James. “Look, if you could always state everything over, I’m sure I would state things — if I could restate everything I’ve ever said to a woman or a man, I’d say it differently. But generally, no.”
The 512-page transcript was from an interview conducted in July as part of James’ probe into the numerous allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo. It contributed to a report released two weeks later that led to Cuomo’s resignation, a downfall previously unimaginable for a governor who was first elected in 2010 and reelected twice by substantial margins.
On numerous instances during the interview, Cuomo acknowledged comments that were featured in James’ report, but said they had been interpreted incorrectly. Take, for example, former staffer Charlotte Bennett’s allegation that the governor had compared her to Daisy Duke, the fictional character from the television series “The Dukes of Hazzard” and subsequent movies.
“Yeah, I remember her wearing jean shorts which, frankly, I thought were a little inappropriate in the office,” Cuomo told investigators. “And I said something like, ‘Oh, so what are you wearing Daisy Duke shorts today?’ Not that she would know who Daisy Duke was, because I think Daisy Duke must be, like, 110 now. But just to register a little bit about the shorts, because I thought they were a little inappropriate. But I didn’t really want to say anything directly.”
Investigators also asked Cuomo about claims that he called Bennett “Wings” since “her eye make up goes up.”
“I may have said something like that,” he said. But, he said, he gives nicknames to lots of people: “I call Rita, my new friend, ‘lovely Rita meter maid,’” he said in reference to attorney Rita Glavin, who was sitting with him at the time.
He characterized his comparison of former staffer Lindsey Boylan to his former girlfriend Lisa Shields as “just small talk.”
“I did say to her words to the effect of — in just small talk, ‘You have a clone. Do you know that you have a clone? A person who looks just like you.’ And — because there is a person I know who has an uncanny — in my opinion — an uncanny resemblance to her. And that was that,” Cuomo said.
The former governor also said that an incident in which he demanded a female reporter eat a full sausage at the 2016 State Fair was “taken totally out of context.”
“It was at a sausage event at a sausage shop. But some press quipped that it had some other connotation, sausage,” Cuomo said.
But Cuomo continued to say that some of the events his accusers described never happened, including Boylan’s claim that he asked her to play strip poker while on a state plane.
“That never happened. I’ve never played strip poker. I’ve never used the expression, ‘Let’s play strip poker,’” he said.
Throughout the interview, he qualified many of his denials with lawyerly language, saying that he couldn’t be absolutely sure about the truth of his responses.
“I kiss on the cheek,” he said when asked if he ever kisses staff on the lips. “There may be an occasion where a staff member kissed me on the lips. But I kiss on the cheek as a rule.”
Sometimes, he said, the recipients of his kisses “have fallen to the Italian two-cheek kiss” or had “a peck on the lips.” He was asked if that ever happened with a male staffer.
“I may have kissed a man on the lips,” Cuomo replied. “I’m not going to say I’ve never kissed a man on the lips.”
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