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The criminal complaint against Andrew Cuomo, briefly explained

The former New York governor was charged with forcible touching, a misdemeanor.

Andrew Cuomo gestures while speaking at a press briefing in August 2021.
Andrew Cuomo, who resigned as governor of New York in August, speaks at a press briefing about Covid-19 earlier that month.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Ellen Ioanes covers breaking and general assignment news as the weekend reporter at Vox. She previously worked at Business Insider covering the military and global conflicts.

More than two months after his abrupt fall from power, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now facing a criminal complaint alleging he groped a former executive assistant in late 2020.

Cuomo, who resigned from office in August amid a slew of misconduct allegations, was charged on Thursday by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office with forcible touching, a misdemeanor charge that carries a penalty of up to a year in jail.

Former Cuomo aide Brittany Commisso has accused Cuomo of groping her while she was working with him at the governor’s mansion in Albany, and she filed a police report in August, shortly after the release of a damning report by New York Attorney General Letitia James investigating misconduct claims against Cuomo.

The report found that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, including Commisso — but Commisso’s allegations are the first to result in criminal charges.

According to the New York Times, the forcible touching charge brought against Cuomo is often used in circumstances where it’s difficult to prove that the assailant was acting purely for their own sexual gratification. The charging documents allege that Cuomo groped Commisso “for the purposes of degrading and gratifying his sexual desires.”

Cuomo is set to appear in Albany City Court on November 17 to be arraigned.

The misdemeanor charge comes after an independent report commissioned by James’s office was released in August, detailing multiple allegations of sexual harassment by Cuomo and a hostile work environment in which dissent was not tolerated and speaking up about alleged abuse could result in retaliation.

Cuomo has denied the allegations against him and offered a number of justifications, including that what he considered friendly actions were simply out of step with the political moment. His attorney, Rita Glavin, said in a statement on Friday that Cuomo never assaulted anyone and claimed that the Albany County sheriff, Craig Apple, had acted with political intent.

Confusion over the timing of the complaint gave Glavin some fuel; according to Apple, his office filed the complaint on Thursday morning, not expecting that it would result in a summons being issued the same day.

As a result, the complaint became public on Thursday before Apple could notify Albany County District Attorney David Soares, who didn’t know about the complaint until it was leaked to New York Focus.

Soares said in a statement that he was “surprised to learn today that a criminal complaint was filed in Albany City Court by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office against Andrew Cuomo.” Soares’s office has been pursuing its own investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo.

According to the Albany Times-Union, a summons wasn’t expected until next week, after the sheriff’s office had conferred with Soares and Commisso about moving forward with the case. Commisso’s attorney, Brian Premo, said that she too “was surprised by the turn of events but she has been and will remain a resolute cooperating victim in pursuit of blind justice.”

Apple told the Wall Street Journal that his office routinely files such paperwork without consulting with prosecutors first, and a spokesperson for the New York state court system, Lucian Chalfen, defended Albany City Court Judge Holly Trexler, telling the WSJ she “handled the filing of the misdemeanor complaint properly.”

Cuomo has repeatedly been accused of harassment and misconduct

In addition to allegations against Cuomo by Commisso and 10 other women, the August report painted an alarming picture of pervasive sexual harassment and retaliation by Cuomo and his aides.

It detailed accusations ranging from Cuomo asking for help finding a girlfriend and saying that he, in his early 60s, would date a woman as young as 22, to unwanted physical contact, like the kind Commisso described when she came forward publicly in August.

The report was effectively the final straw for an already-embattled Cuomo, who was by August facing multiple distinct scandals, including allegations that his administration had deliberately covered up the number of nursing home residents who died of Covid-19 during the pandemic. His public support plummeted, and top aide Melissa DeRosa resigned after the attorney general’s report detailed her role in retaliation against at least one accuser.

Sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo began surfacing last year after former aide Lindsey Boylan accused Cuomo of sexually harassing her “for years” and of retaliating against her by releasing confidential personnel files; additional accusations earlier this year added momentum to calls for Cuomo to resign.

Ultimately, Cuomo, facing an accelerating impeachment push backed by state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the chamber’s Democratic majority, announced he was stepping down just one week after the attorney general’s report was released on August 3.

Despite Cuomo’s resignation, Heastie said in August that the Assembly would continue investigating both the sexual harassment accusations and allegations that the Cuomo administration had deliberately lied about the number of nursing home deaths in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thursday’s criminal complaint is just the latest development in Cuomo’s rapid downfall, and it underscores that the allegations that ended his governorship could still become actionable claims, with real legal teeth.

Cuomo still claims he’s the victim of a political witch hunt

As with previous sexual misconduct allegations, Cuomo’s attorney, Glavin, has argued that the allegations in Thursday’s criminal complaint are false and politically motivated.

“Governor Cuomo has never assaulted anyone, and Sheriff Apple’s motives here are patently improper. Sheriff Apple didn’t even tell the district attorney what he was doing,” Glavin said in a statement. “This is not professional law enforcement; this is politics.”

Specifically, Cuomo’s team has seized on the initial confusion surrounding the charging announcement, which coincided closely with the announcement of James’s gubernatorial campaign, as evidence of political maneuvering on her part. Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi also took aim at Apple, saying the charges were an “abuse of power” in Apple’s “rouge [sic] investigation.”

James announced her gubernatorial campaign on Friday, just one day after the criminal complaint against Cuomo was filed. She will challenge sitting New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, the former lieutenant governor who took over from Cuomo following his resignation, in the Democratic primary, and other candidates may jump into the Democratic race as well.

James and Cuomo had previously been allies; he endorsed her during her successful 2018 run for attorney general. More recently, however, Cuomo and his team have begun to spin James’s probe into the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo as an abuse of power in pursuit of the governor’s mansion.

Cuomo has tweeted repeatedly in the days since the complaint was made public, with statements by Glavin and Azzopardi both claiming there is no evidence to support the criminal charges.

But multiple district attorney’s offices in New York, as well as the state Assembly, have been collecting evidence against Cuomo, and Apple has repeatedly said that the mistimed filing of the complaint doesn’t have any bearing on the seriousness of the charges or the strength of the case. Apple also revealed that he and his team had conducted witness interviews and reviewed copious documents related to the case.

“The case is a solid case, our victim is cooperative, and we’re moving forward,” Apple said.