Where on the human body is a person’s butt? What constitutes a girlfriend? Should the most powerful man in the state remember how many of his staffers he kissed on the lips?
Those were among the seemingly straightforward questions that spurred contentious back-and-forth's between former Governor Andrew Cuomo and independent investigators hired to probe allegations of sexual harassment.
The exchanges were documented in a 515-page transcript, released by Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday, detailing a July 17th interview that lasted nearly 11 hours. They offered another window into Cuomo’s defiant posture toward an inquiry that would force him from office less than a month later.
The transcript was released as part of the underlying documentation behind New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ report published in August that corroborated the accounts of sexual harassment and misconduct from eleven women. Also on Wednesday, James’ office released thousands of pages of transcripts women who accused Cuomo of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Asked about the released transcripts, Rich Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Cuomo’s campaign raised a series of questions about the testimony of Cuomo’s accusers. ”The more we know about this investigation the more we know what a fraud it was,” he said.
Even as Cuomo was being sworn in at 8:17 a.m., he offered immediate pushback to investigator Joon Kim, one of two attorneys tapped by James to investigate the allegations. Cuomo has accused Kim, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw several federal corruption cases against the governor’s allies, of having political motives against him.
He questioned Kim about his official title and interrupted him as he tried to read Cuomo his rights. Cuomo quickly transitioned to mockery, joking about Kim’s tie, when asked if he regularly made comments about his employees' outfits.
"I don't really think it's a nice tie, but for purposes of illustration, I happen to think it's a nice tie,” Cuomo said.
Most questions Cuomo answered with a yes and then a no, leaving the door open to potentially any version of the truth.
“Do you remember ever saying to her, Ms. Boylan, ‘You look lovely today,’ or words to that effect?” Kim asked, referring to Lindsey Boylan, the first staffer to come forward with allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed her for months and then eventually forcibly kissed her when they were alone in his Midtown office.
“I don't remember saying that,” he said. “But I wouldn't be shocked if I made that comment.”
When asked if Cuomo regularly kissed his staffers on the lips, he had a similarly vague response.
“I don't recall anyone specifically, but it could happen that somebody kisses [someone] on the lips,” he said.
Several exchanges ensued as Kim attempted to pin Cuomo down on which staffers he had kissed on the lips.
“So you can't say no staff member has kissed you on the lips, but you can't say who may have kissed you on the lips?”
“Right,” Cuomo replied.
Four pages of the transcript were spent on a tedious exchange with Cuomo refusing to answer whether he dated Lisa Shields many years ago. Shields came up in questioning because Boylan had released an email from Cuomo’s senior aide, Stephanie Benton, where she said Cuomo had told her that Boylan looked like the better looking sister of Lisa Shields, which Boylan perceived as a come-on.
“How do you want to define ‘girlfriend’?” Cuomo asked.
“Did you date her?” Kim asked. Cuomo responded: “How do you want to define ‘date’?”
Cuomo eventually admitted he had dated Shields, after several more minutes of semantic sparring. Another disagreement over definitions of basic words erupted over the word “butt.”
“Could you define 'near the butt'?” Cuomo’s personal attorney Rita Glavin interrupted, wanting clarification when Kim asked if Cuomo had touched any staffer near the butt at an event.
“Do you understand where a human's butt is? And anywhere near there?” Kim pushed back.
“Well, near the butt now becomes an expansive area,” Cuomo stated.
Inconsistencies emerged in Cuomo’s remarks regarding Brittany Commisso, the executive chamber employee who alleges Cuomo groped her under her blouse in the executive mansion in December of 2020 after months of quiet advances.
Initially, Cuomo said that he had “never” kissed Commisso on the lips, noting that he’d had “very limited interaction with her.” But later in the interview, Cuomo said Commisso instigated more physical contact than anyone else he worked with: “She was more affectionate. Yes, she's more affectionate than most people on staff.”
Kim’s repeated questions about Commisso’s groping allegation seem to leave Cuomo flustered, setting off a rant about the length and breadth of his political career.
“I would have to lose my mind to do … such a thing. It would be an act of insanity to touch a woman's breast,” he said. “I am 63 years old. I have been in every public office, state, federal. Numerous people have tried to set me up. I'm always wary of people. I have phenomenal precautions.”
Kim responded calmly. “As you've noticed, I'm not engaging,” Kim said. “I wouldn't want the silence to go as some kind of acceptance of it,” after which investigators carried on with their questions.
Cuomo’s marathon testimony culminated at 7:01 p.m. with one final jab at Kim, who Cuomo maintains has a political ax to grind against him, along with Attorney General Leittia James, Albany Sheriff Craig Apple, and any number of other critics.
“I would like to say it was a pleasure, Mr. Kim,” he said. “But I'm under oath.