Ex-Cuomo aide details groping as lawmakers meet in private

National

This image provided by CBS This Morning/Times Union shows Brittany Commisso, left, answering questions during an interview with CBS correspondent Jericka Duncan on CBS This Morning, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021, in New York. (CBS This Morning and Times Union via AP)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Lawmakers took another early step toward Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s possible impeachment Monday, hours after an aide who accused him of groping her said in her first televised interview that she initially remained anonymous for fear the governor’s “enablers” would destroy her.

Brittany Commisso, an executive assistant on Cuomo’s staff, detailed her interactions with the Democrat in a joint interview with CBS and The Times Union of Albany that was broadcast Monday as a key New York legislative committee met behind closed doors to discuss potential impeachment hearings.

Commisso has spoken out before, first in an anonymous interview with the Times Union last winter, and then asone of 11 women who said they were sexually harassed by Cuomowhose allegations were detailed in a report by the state attorney general’s office last week, which did not name her. She was also the first woman to file a criminal complaint against Cuomo, giving a report to the county sheriff Thursday.

Until now, the public hasn’t heard her tell her own story.

“I was afraid that if I had to come forward and revealed my name, that the governor and his enablers, I like to call them, would viciously attack me, would smear my name, as I had seen and heard them do before to people,” said Commisso, now 32.

She said she also wanted to protect her daughter, but now feels speaking out shows her that “she has a voice.”

“I never want her to be afraid to speak,” Commisso said. “I never want her to be afraid of any person in power, a man or a woman.”

The interview aired as Cuomo faced another day under fire.

The Assembly’s judiciary committee met to discuss how to wrap up an ongoing probe of Cuomo’s conduct with women, and of other matters, including the use of staff to help with his $5 million book deal and his administration’s decision to withhold full statistics on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes from the public.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he understands demands for his fellow Democrat’s immediate ouster. But Heastie said the public shouldn’t expect an impeachment vote in coming days, because he wants lawmakers to finish going through piles of evidence to consider whether there’s enough to impeach Cuomo over a variety of issues.

“I think it’s been very, very, very clear by this Assembly Majority that there’s no confidence in the governor remaining in office,” Heastie said.

The judiciary committee, which has given Cuomo until Friday to respond to the allegations, will continue to meet in private through at least Aug. 23 to discuss hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and other evidence. Lawmakers plan to have public hearings featuring testimony from experts on sexual harassment and on impeachment procedures, though it’s unclear whether they would call any of the women or other witnesses to testify.

Any vote to start an impeachment trial would lead to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul serving as acting governor and trigger a 30-day period for Cuomo to respond.

Committee Chair Chuck Lavine, a Democrat, said the committee wanted to make sure any articles of impeachment were “airtight.”

“I anticipate the governor and his attorneys will challenge everything,” he said.

Heastie, meanwhile, sought to tamp down speculation that a delay could give Cuomo an opportunity to negotiate a more graceful exit from office, perhaps by offering not to run for reelection.

“I am not negotiating any deals,” he said.

Scores of Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have urged Cuomo to leave office. About two-thirds of state Assembly members have said they favor an impeachment trial if he refuses to resign, according to an Associated Press count. Only a simple majority vote is needed to begin an impeachment trial.

Cuomo will be going into the fight without his former top aide, Melissa DeRosa, who resigned late Sunday, saying the past two years had been “emotionally and mentally trying.”

The report made public by state Attorney General Letitia James said DeRosa played a lead role in trying to protect Cuomo from harassment claims.

Among other things, it said she was involved in giving reporters personnel memos about Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to accuse him publicly of harassment. The records described Boylan’s exit from the administration amid allegations that she’d mistreated her own staff.

In her interview on CBS, Commisso said Cuomo groped her for the first time on Dec. 31, 2019, when the governor suggested the two take a selfie together.

“He was to my left. I was on the right. With my right hand, I took the selfie. I then felt while taking the selfie, his hand go down my back onto my butt, and he started rubbing it. Not sliding it. Not, you know, quickly brushing over it — rubbing my butt.”

Commisso, who began working in the governor’s office in 2017, said this made her so nervous that her hands began to shake, making it difficult for her to even take the picture.

“I was embarrassed,” she said.

Commisso said Cuomo groped her a second time at the governor’s mansion in November 2020.

After shutting the door, “He came back to me and that’s when he put his hand up my blouse and cupped my breast over my bra,” she said. “I exactly remember looking down, seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my God. This is happening.’”

Cuomo has repeatedly denied that the episode took place.

In an interview with the attorney general’s investigators, he said, “I would have to lose my mind to do such a thing” to a woman he hardly knew, with multiple staff members around.

The Associated Press does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual misconduct unless they decide to speak out publicly, as Commisso has done.

Cuomo’s lawyers have attacked the attorney general’s investigation as biased in favor of his female accto thusers.

“Everyone’s pushing the governor to resign based on a report that has not been vetted and that people are taking to be 100% true,” Cuomo attorney Rita Glavin said Monday evening on CNN, an interview in which she questioned Commisso’s motives without evidence or specifics.

Advisers close to Cuomo don’t expect him to give up, even as his circle of allies willing to speak up for him in public shrinks. But even once-loyal Democratic allies say they don’t see him surviving.

“Just politically, this is the Titanic. It’s just not going to float again,” said state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs.

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. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said Saturday that Cuomo could face misdemeanor charges if investigators substantiate Commisso’s complaint.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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