In the days after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was first accused of sexual harassment by a former aide, the governor’s office called at least six former employees to find out if they had heard from the accuser or to obtain information about her in conversations that some said they saw as attempts to intimidate them.
Some of the people who received the calls said they had not heard from the administration in months before receiving the call about the accuser. One said a caller encouraged them to give reporters any information that would discredit the accuser, Lindsey Boylan, who worked as an economic adviser for the Cuomo administration between 2015 and 2018.
The calls were made by current administration officials and former aides who are still near the governor’s office, according to multiple recipients. The rapprochement came at the urging of Melissa DeRosa, the top aide to the governor, according to people familiar with the effort.
“I was intimidated and taken aback,” said Ana Liss, a former assistant governor who received one of the calls.
Ms. Liss, who earlier this month accused Mr. Cuomo of inappropriate behavior, said Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, telephoned her on December 21. The call came eight days after Boylan said in a Twitter post that the governor sexually harassed her.
Ms. Liss had not worked for the governor in more than five years and could not recall the last time the administration had contacted, she said.
He said Azzopardi reminded him on the call how much he had accomplished during his time working for the governor and asked if he had received a message from Ms. Boylan. She told him she hadn’t and said the conversation ended on a friendly note.
Azzopardi said in a statement: “Following Ms. Boylan’s tweets in December, she, her lawyers and members of the press began communicating with former members of the House, many of whom never worked with her. Those former members of the House called to let various staff members know and convey that they were upset by the approach. As a result, we proactively reached out to some former colleagues to check and make sure they were on top of it. “
Azzopardi said the calls were not coordinated by DeRosa. “There was no directed effort, this rapprochement happened organically when everyone’s phone started to explode.” He added that they did not intimidate anyone.
In Twitter posts after this story was posted, Boylan said that he did not contact anyone in December and that he did not have an attorney at the time.
Three former employees from his time as governor and a current aide to Mr. Cuomo accused the governor of inappropriate behavior or sexual harassment in the workplace, prompting calls from senior Republicans and state Democrats for him to resign.
The Democrats who dominate the State Assembly have launched an impeachment investigation that will look at the allegations and how the Cuomo administration handled Covid-19 in nursing homes. State Attorney General Letitia James is now overseeing an investigation into the allegations made by the former aides and how Mr. Cuomo’s office handled the complaints.
Mr. Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately and has apologized for any behavior that may have been misinterpreted. He also asked New Yorkers to hold trial until Ms. James’ investigation is complete.
Boylan has said that Cuomo tried to kiss her on the lips in his office and, during a 2017 flight on his plane, suggested that they play poker.
A Cuomo spokeswoman has denied Boylan’s allegations.
Another former assistant, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo asked her about her sex life and if she had relationships with older men. Ms. Liss has said that he asked her if she had a boyfriend, touched her lower back at a reception and once kissed her hand when she got up from her desk. A fourth woman this week accused the governor of touching her inappropriately during a meeting at the Executive Mansion last year.
In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo said: “As I said yesterday, I have never done anything like this. The details in this report are heartbreaking. I will not discuss the details of this or any other allegation given the ongoing review, but I am confident of the outcome of the Attorney General’s report. “
The governor, in previous statements, has encouraged women to come forward and said his office would cooperate with Ms. James’s investigation.
But Cuomo and his aides have hunted down accusers and rivals in the past, according to court documents and former employees.
In October 2000, Mr. Cuomo, when he was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was accused of discrimination and sexual harassment in an internal memorandum submitted by Susan Gaffney, a former HUD Inspector General. She accused Mr. Cuomo and other HUD officials of intimidation and harassment after she released a congressional-requested audit of some of the work Mr. Cuomo had overseen.
Ms. Gaffney testified before Congress in 1998 that Mr. Cuomo’s aides attempted to defame her, including publishing an anonymous letter that Mr. Cuomo had allegedly received saying that he was targeting minorities.
At one point, Mr. Cuomo assured him that he had nothing to do with the actions of the key aides, he said. “I suggested that if his key aides acted without his approval, he should fire them; the secretary did not respond, “she said in the 1998 testimony, adding that the tactics used by Mr. Cuomo and his assistants were” dirty tricks “to force her to resign.
Ms Gaffney could not be located.
After Ms Boylan tweeted her account in December, she said in a Medium post on February 24 that the media received “portions of a supposedly confidential personal file” from her time in the administration. Ms Boylan said in the post that she had never seen the file and that it was an effort to smear her.
In response to Ms. Boylan’s complaint about her personnel history, Beth Garvey, the governor’s acting attorney, said: “With certain limited exceptions, as a general matter, it is within the discretion of a government entity to share the records of redacted employment, including in instances where members of the media request such public information and when it is for the purpose of correcting inaccurate or misleading statements. “
Ms. Boylan also said in the Medium post that “those loyal to the governor called around town, asking for me.”
One recipient of a call said the caller asked in December if Ms Boylan had contacted the recipient and what the recipient thought of her claims.
Another recipient of a call said that a caller, a current official in the Cuomo administration, asked if reporters had been contacted about Ms. Boylan and wanted to confirm the nature of the recipient’s experience with Ms. Boylan. “The subtext was clear: they asked me to dirty it,” said the recipient.
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