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Revisiting Andrew Cuomo's Ouster
Was he the victim of a media campaign similar to the one being waged against Russell Brand?
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Russell Brand is in the news after being accused by several women of sexual assault and emotional abuse. Are the accusations plausible? Absolutely. But plausibility does not equal truth, and accusations aren’t proof.
I cannot help but be skeptical. For one thing, the accusers didn’t go to the police. Instead, the media came to the accusers fishing for allegations stemming from decades ago. Each of the women who has come out against Brand wrote his actions off as annoyances at the time—a period when Brand has openly admitted he was a sex and drug addict who behaved shamefully, and whose avaricious ways launched him to stardom. Some of the women went back to him after the alleged crimes were committed. It is wholly within the realm of possibility that the accusers are now speaking out against Brand for actions they forgave at the time — actions that are now being judged in a contemporary post #MeToo paradigm — because they’re hoping to benefit. Perhaps it’s not about harm done, but the chance of reward. I’m not saying the women are lying, but there’s room for ambiguity.
Many of the allegations are distasteful, not criminal. As Jonathan Cook points out, the media seems to be conflating “long-standing, and well-known, ‘bad boy’ behaviour with far more serious, potentially criminal allegations. That conflation does not strengthen the case against Brand. It muddies the waters. Pointing this out does not mean one is condoning rape or sexual assault.” The same media corporations that once delighted in and exploited Brand’s sex-addict persona back in the day to increase corporate profits are now publicly reviling him for his behavior. Why? Might it have something to do with the fact that Brand is now independently and competitively successful, pushing agendas that the media doesn’t like? He’s become a massively influential establishment dissident whom the Left hates and calls “right-wing” because of his refusal to stick to the Democratic Party line and his willingness to buck the trend of accepted narratives.
Already Brand is experiencing professional retribution. His book deal has been spiked, and a tour with sold out shows has been suspended. His agency has dropped him as a client. And now YouTube has demonetized him. All this, before the authorities have even conducted a formal investigation. No due process. Brand has been convicted in the court of public opinion thanks to the media blitzkrieg being waged against him.
Watching this story evolve over the past couple of days, I’ve been reminded of the flagrant upending of due process that occured when former New York governor Andrew Cuomo was ousted from office during the height of #MeToo. Regardless of what you think of the man (and I’m certainly no fan), the grave precedent that was established — trial by media, with legacy journalists going out of their way to gloss over discrepancies — cannot be overstated. What follows is a long post I wrote last year about why the manner in which Cuomo was forced out of office was wrong, with some important takeaways that bear repeating at this particular moment.
My goal here is not to absolve Cuomo of any wrongdoing. Rather, it’s to bring attention to some very ambiguous aspects of this story that were buried under sanctimonious theatrics, and to emphasize the shocking lack of interest across the entire spectrum of our media and political class in treating these ambiguities with the scrutiny they warranted.
Removing yourself from the collective fury spurred on by the press is the only way you can fairly evaluate the bevy of exculpatory evidence and statements purposely omitted from virtually all coverage of this brouhaha, and so my hope is that now, after some time has passed and the dust has settled a bit, folks will be able to do so. The bottom line is that there were a number of glaring inconsistencies and lies pertaining to this bizarre episode that indicated there were more important things at stake than a surface-level understanding suggested.
What I’m referring to is the campaign of sexual harassment allegations that succeeded in ousting former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo from office. What I am not talking about is the pandemic scandal in which Cuomo and his administration deliberately obscured the full scope of nursing home deaths in an apparent effort to hide the state’s true number of covid fatalities.1 Nor am I referring to any other scandals or accusations or grievances involving Cuomo before this sexual harassment PR stunt was orchestrated through a combination of dubious characters, salacious media coverage, and the schadenfreude-loving Twitter divas who enjoy nothing so much as seeing others fall.
There was a time not too long ago when Cuomo was lionized by the very people who about-faced and became his most fervent detractors. He even won an Emmy “in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world,” which is a very rare honor for a politician still in office.
That being said, I’m aware of the reasons why people detest the guy, and that you might harbor intense animosity for all things Andrew Cuomo-related, including his brother, who was once CNN’s most popular host (according to the ratings, at least) and PR flak. But for the sake of argument I need you to take a step back and adopt a more dispassionate, detached perspective while reading this, because the reality is that your personal opinion of Andrew Cuomo in relation to covid, politics, ideology, personality — however it is you might feel about him — is irrelevant to whether the sexual harassment allegations hold up under scrutiny.
They don’t. At all. At least, not by my lights.
It remains disconcerting that they treated Cuomo’s resignation as some kind of watershed moment, a somber reminder of the systemic misogyny ensconced in our society. A forced resignation over some accusations that were dubious in the extreme should never have been counted as a “win” for the #MeToo movement. On the contrary, this is just another episodic example of how easily the movement can be weaponized by unscrupulous individuals looking to take advantage of the prevailing “believe all women” sentiment.
There are obvious questions that should’ve been given more attention. Over the course of his 40 years in public life, including two FBI background checks, confirmation hearings, political campaigns, and 11 years in office, Cuomo never had a sexual harassment accusation levied against him. Why is it that the first woman to come forward, then-candidate for Manhattan Borough president Lindsey Boylan, waited until December 2020 to post a Twitter thread accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment that supposedly occurred more than two years earlier, in 2018? Why not come forward before Cuomo was given an Emmy and so widely celebrated?
Regarding her accusations: On December 13, 2020, Boylan took to Twitter to post a vague series of tweets claiming that while serving as Cuomo’s deputy secretary for economic development and a special advisor, the governor had “grilled” her about work and “harassed” her because of her looks. For reasons that continue to elude my understanding, ample evidence suggesting Boylan might have “come forward” with a less than honest story for a variety of unsavory, self-motivated reasons was largely ignored, at least by those with the reach and clout to bring proper attention to the matter.
Michael Tracey, an independent reporter who to the best of my knowledge is the only person not named Tucker Carlson to actually take a critical look at the campaign waged against Cuomo, pointed out that rather than scrutinizing the political motivations that may have led Boylan to come forward, the media chose to portray her as a noble accuser who just happened to benignly materialize out of thin air.
I have serious doubts about this Boylan character, to put it mildly, and I’ll stand by that statement in the unlikely event that the #MeToo banshees come calling for my head because I dared to point out what anyone with any semblance of higher cortex functioning knows to be true if they only consider the following.
Through a series of public statements that began with tweets in December 2020 — less than two weeks after announcing she was running for office — and culminated in a February 24, 2021 Medium essay, Boylan claimed that she resigned from her state post due to a hostile work environment after she “started speaking up for” herself.
That is categorically false. The truth, which was memorialized in an internal correspondence by the state of New York, is that senior management requested to terminate Boylan because of complaints received from numerous employees that she was prone to unnecessary yelling, treated her peers “like children,” and lacked professionalism.
“On an agency-wide basis, L. Boylan is reported to be hostile and a bully.”
She also let her travel expenses pile up to the tune of $8,000 before reconciliation and told a subordinate she’d accept her resignation without consulting human resources. When the Counsel to the Governor confronted her about all this, making it clear that she wasn’t being fired, Boylan still chose to officially resign, only to ask if she could have her job back four days later.
When the attorney general’s investigative team pressed her for specific details on her vague accusations, Boylan cited an instance when “the Governor showed her around his office, and pointed out a cigar box which he said was from Bill Clinton.” Boylan said she “felt” this was “an allusion to President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.”
Boylan also claimed that Cuomo’s gesture of sending roses and signed photographs to female staffers on Valentine’s Day in 2017 was a “not-so-subtle reminder of the Governor exploiting the power dynamic with the women around him” . . .even though Cuomo’s office had done this on every Valentine’s Day as a good-faith gesture to his dozens of female employees who had to work that day.
Her most serious accusation — that, following a work meeting, Cuomo blocked her from leaving and kissed her on the lips in a manner that was in “no way platonic” as she exited his office . . .which never had the door closed, and which the Governor’s assistant sat right outside of — is difficult to believe, especially when just one month after this supposed incident, Boylan tweeted, “Proud to work for a governor who takes women seriously”:
Some more examples of Boylan singing Cuomo’s praises:
As you can see, she obviously had a favorable view of Cuomo even in the years after her resignation. And why shouldn’t she? Cuomo didn’t have anything to do with her leaving—she resigned. But in late March 2020, Boylan was in the midst of a primary campaign against Congressman Jerry Nadler when she sent a series of text messages to senior Executive Chamber personnel threatening retribution against Cuomo. Apparently, she was under the delusion that the governor was specifically trying to hurt her campaign when, a week after declaring a state of emergency due to the pandemic, he issued an Executive Order shortening the petition period for all primary election candidates in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
Following her unsuccessful bid for Congress, on November 23, 2020, Boylan announced her candidacy for Manhattan Borough President. Less than two weeks later, she posted her harassment claims on Twitter. The timing of this stunt seems questionable, but when you also consider the rhetoric she began to employ as her campaign progressed, it’s fairly obvious that she was trying to use her allegations against Cuomo as a sort of campaign theme in the hope of attracting voter sympathy and support.
In a May 10, 2021 speech: “I’m Lindsey Boylan. I’m running for Manhattan Borough President. . . [Y]ou may have heard of me recently. I’m fighting my own battle against abuse of the system, abuse of power. The Governor of New York is an abuser. . . .”
In a video posted on her campaign Facebook page on March 26, 2021: “I’m Lindsey Boylan. I'm a candidate for Manhattan Borough President, but you likely know my name from the headlines. Please know, like all survivors, I am so much [more] than the person that you read about in the news. It was an incredibly difficult decision to tell my story of harassment that I experienced while working for the governor of New York.”
“Like all survivors. . .” Survivor of what, exactly? Purported sexual harassment? Imagine the degree of narcissism you’d have to be afflicted with in order to call yourself a “survivor” based on these tenuous accusations. Even if 100% true, she’s not a “survivor” for dealing with behavior that she later decided meets the threshold for sexual harassment. That’s a slap in the face to every woman who’s ever had to endure actual mental and physical abuse. Boylan repeatedly praised Cuomo before and after the purported transgressions. Indeed, she did so even after she was no longer employed by the man. Circumstances did not demand that.
Under the progressive zeitgeist, victimhood endows one with social capital. That’s what this was about: Someone running for office and looking to leverage dubious claims for self-interested reasons. If I sound harsh, so be it. Nothing in the very biased, very irregular AG report (more on this later) indicates Lindsey Boylan has any right to describe herself as such.
It also seems not to have mattered that Boylan, after posting her Twitter monologue and sexual harassment thread, proceeded to contact and essentially coordinate with Charlotte Bennett, a former Cuomo aide who identifies as a “Cuomo whistleblower,” and who stepped forward as accuser number two.
It’s important to note that much in the same way Lindsey Boylan’s accusations amounted to little more than an interpretative paradigm — essentially a lens she constructed on her own that she’s now decided to retroactively apply to her time working in the Cuomo administration — Charlotte Bennett’s allegations are best characterized as nebulous. To wit: Her central accusation is that she was “groomed” by Cuomo as a 25-year-old professional political operative. That’s what Bennett said in a March interview, and that’s what is repeated in the AG report. One example of Cuomo’s purported “grooming” is when he referred to Bennett as “Daisy Duke” on a day she wore shorts to the office. (Heaven forfend!)
As Michael Tracey highlighted, “This repurposing of ‘grooming’ from a concept that typically refers to illicit predation by adults on children, to adult-on-adult interaction, is now apparently a compulsory mainstream ‘belief.’” Bennett even admitted that Cuomo never attempted to physically touch her.
But it’s not Bennett’s condemnatory narrative against Cuomo that makes her an especially eyebrow-raising character, it’s her background story. You see, Bennett is an alumna of a swanky liberal arts school called Hamilton College, where she majored in “women’s studies.” In 2017, the year she graduated, there was a lawsuit filed against Hamilton College in which someone anonymized as “Sally Smith” is said to have written an opinion article in the October 20, 2016 edition of the student newspaper on the subject of sexual assault. It just so happens that Charlotte Bennett authored an opinion article about sexual assault published on that same date:
The lawsuit alleges that “Sally Smith,” whom we can say with some degree of certainty is actually Charlotte Bennett, knowingly fabricated a sexual misconduct claim against another student in order to get him expelled shortly before graduation in Spring 2017. She is said to have done this by recasting a consensual encounter with him from years earlier as non-consensual, as part of a coordinated campaign to create the perception of a pattern of abuse committed by the accused individual (referred to as “Doe” below):
I want to emphasize that this “Smith” figure knew, based on prior experience, that the key to getting someone (falsely) convicted was “multiple reports against the same individual.” Charlotte Bennett’s LinkedIn page lists one of her Hamilton College activities as “Title IX Peer Advocate,” which means she’d be more than familiar with the process and how to achieve her desired result. I also want to bring attention to how the screenshot below states that “Smith” was forced to withdraw her complaint against “Doe” after the emergence of a recording which “unequivocally proved that Smith’s allegations against Doe were fabricated,” and how she coordinated this ploy with other individuals to create the momentum needed to oust “Doe” from campus.
And yet this information, which was readily available to the mainstream media and attorney general, received no attention whatsoever. I find it hard to believe that this lack of coverage was due to simple ignorance on the part of the sterling journalists employed at, say, the New York Times, for example, and that it wasn’t intentionally swept under the rug because it would’ve called into question the second accuser’s credibility and therefore the legitimacy of the entire case, which, obviously, wouldn’t have meshed with the predetermined narrative they were already so zealously invested in. Instead, Charlotte Bennett has been widely celebrated in the time since Cuomo resigned.
Let’s talk about New York State Attorney General Letitia James and the 165-page report she issued — co-authored by someone named Joon Kim, who previously had Cuomo’s office in his crosshairs as a prosecutor — after a months-long investigation into the allegations. Bottom line up front: Her report and the allegations therein are extremely problematic. In a brazen flouting of the very concept of due process, James used her TV press conference to accuse Cuomo of having “violated federal and state law” without actually detailing which law(s) and what the crimes were. No charges of any kind were brought against the governor, and she stated that there would be no commensurate prosecutorial action.
It should be noted how unprecedented it is for a state’s chief law enforcement official to effectively announce to the world that the state governor is guilty. . . and that’s it. Though operating under the auspices of law, James effectively denied Cuomo the opportunity for not only cross-examination, but a formal rebuttal. She quite literally declared the law had been violated and saw it fit to leave it at that, and in so doing she issued a kind of newly-created judicial reproach. That’s not how due process works.
I’m skeptical of James and her report for other reasons, the most salient of them being that it’s widely known that she long-coveted Cuomo’s job. She once joked that “AG (attorney general) stands for ‘aspiring governor.’” Even before she was elected to her current office, James vowed to start a political investigation into Donald Trump’s businesses in New York, not because she had specific evidence of lawbreaking (she never even claimed she did), but because she didn’t like him, and because such a performative promise appealed to her voters.
At her press conference, James said that one of the reasons for the Cuomo investigation was to illustrate that “we should believe women.” And yet based on the way she operates, the attorney general’s standard of belief evidently means accusing someone of lawbreaking without doing her job, which is to actually prove the accusations in court. “For a prosecutor to say the things she did. . . would be a violation of the code of ethics,” Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University, said in an interview with Michael Tracey. “In New York state, I can’t think of another situation where an attorney general went so far,” he added. “A lot of her statements were quite inflammatory, and highly prejudicial.”
The report itself is like a game of trivial pursuit. Large portions of it are ridiculous, with blatant, sloppy errors, and I think anyone who reads it objectively will conclude that many of the accusations don’t exactly merit belief. On page 148, for example, Letitia James accuses Cuomo of “allowing senior staff members to sit on his lap at official functions,” which she goes on to characterize as evidence of a “hostile work environment.” But if you go back to page 122 of the report, you’ll find this line: “None of these senior staff reported feeling uncomfortable with this behavior.” Cuomo’s predilection for the words “honey,” “darling,” and “sweetheart” also feature prominently in the report as examples of his alleged lawbreaking.
Another frequent topic of discussion is Cuomo’s tendency to put his hand on the waist of women while posing for photos. Ana Liss, an aide who came forward in March to the Wall Street Journal as the “third victim” — with the implication being that accusations were beginning to pile up, adding weight to the central premise — produced one such 2014 photo to investigators as evidence, having first provided it to the WSJ.
The photo (above) does show Cuomo’s hand placed around the waist of a smiling and laughing Liss, but it would take some serious intellectual gymnastics indeed to actually believe the unremarkable pose was anything other than that, particularly given that the photo was taken at a public function . . . in a well-lit room . . . with people in the background . . . and it was being photographed.
Per her own comments to the newspaper, Liss continued to display the incriminating photo in her office until at least March 6, 2021. She later told AG investigators she had once been “proud” of the photo, given that it indicated she “was around [Cuomo] and adjacent to him.” But in her mind it had subsequently “[taken] on a different meaning” after the “broader dialogue started percolating from other women.”
There are also repeated references to Cuomo’s jocular commentary, which, in retrospect, was suddenly deemed “offensive” and “inappropriate.” The term “mingle mamas” appears 11 separate times in the report, deriving from a seemingly lighthearted exchange with two women staffers who’d told Cuomo they were soon leaving for a vacation together to Florida, without their spouses—and hence that they were “single and ready to mingle.” One woman submitted a contemporaneous text message in which she made reference to the term, writing “lol mingle mama [emoji].” Letitia James condemned this in her report as “an offensive interaction.” She even cites the fact that Cuomo sometimes complimented female employees on their appearance—telling them, for instance, that they looked “lovely.”
The most damning allegation — that Cuomo “slid his hand up” a woman’s blouse — is difficult to believe, and not just because relative to the other accusations it’s extreme and doesn’t fit any kind of patterned behavior, or even because it rests on the claim of an accuser who admits that she never told anyone about this alleged assault until other women came forward, but because Cuomo’s lawyer, Rita Glavin, thoroughly illustrated how this purported interaction wasn’t even possible according to contemporaneous documentary evidence that the AG report chose to ignore. The timeline of events on the day the accuser claims this happened, backed up with evidence by Glavin, makes it all but impossible that any such incident actually took place.
But returning to Letitia James: She’s the attorney general, not a moral arbiter; her job isn’t to pass moral judgement in enforcing the laws passed by the legislature. By dint of her office, she’s been trusted with tremendous power, and to misuse that power under any circumstance is obviously wrong. And yet she still took it upon herself to essentially declare that the law had been violated, without elaborating but nonetheless concluding, that “under the totality of the circumstances,” Cuomo’s conduct “created a hostile work environment” and therefore constituted a violation — or multiple violations — of the law. “Even the Governor’s less overtly sexual comments that were nonetheless gender-based” contributed to this allegedly unlawful dynamic, the report opines.
This is a flagrant upending of due process, a kind of newly-invented political indictment.
Why This Matters
“I truly believe it is politically motivated,” Cuomo said as he resigned. And he has a point. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all these charges suddenly surfaced after Cuomo was no longer celebrated as a heroic foil to Trump by a media class that absolutely loved him. Nor do I think it’s a stretch to suggest the possibility that the Democratic establishment wanted Cuomo gone because they considered him a political liability, a potential impediment to Democratic electoral success in 2022 and beyond, if only because of the nursing home scandal.
Critics will likely say something along the lines of, “Okay, well, there were 11 women who accused Cuomo of sexual assault—are we to believe that all 11 were actually making things up?” But there weren’t 11 women who accused him of sexual assault; that’s just what the media (i.e. the New York Times) — in a textbook example illustrating the utter lack of journalistic integrity among our noble scribes — claimed despite the fact that the correct information (AKA the truth) was always readily available. And even though the most well-corroborated allegations against Cuomo were, by and large, the least serious ones, the reality is that the nature of the accusations and the amount of hard evidence underlying them never made much difference to anyone’s political calculus. All that was necessary to seal Cuomo’s fate were the allegations themselves thanks to the 24/7 media coverage and the pile-on effect of more and more accusers coming out of the woodwork.
No prosecutor’s inquisition on a publicly charged issue will present the facts in an entirely neutral light. That’s why in most matters in the U.S., prosecutors don’t have the last word. Democratic accountability would’ve been better served if Cuomo had been able to defend himself in an impeachment. Removing an elected Governor based on what he claims are “untruthful” accusations is a serious matter, and the impeachment process gives voters, through their representatives, an opportunity to adjudicate. There’s a cost to democratic institutions when evicting a governor becomes an intra-party affair, an inside scheme based on disputed facts and the shifting judgments of power-brokers.
That’s not how democracy works, and it’s definitely not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Our political elite are attempting to arrogate to themselves veto power over the ability of any politician to serve out their term of office, using public trial or the threat thereof to attack political enemies and end careers, but it’s the voters who are supposed to decide who the governor of New York is.
It should be readily apparent why a development like this establishes a terrible precedent going forward: It presages more allegations, more show trials, and more opportunities for a key principal of American justice — “innocent until proven guilty” — to be stepped on. This American affinity for engineering scandals to justify impeachment-based governance or the ruination of someone’s livelihood is growing.
But in terms of the accusers themselves, here’s what concerns me: It is beyond dispute that over the past decade or so we’ve witnessed the explosive growth of a culture revolving around systematic advantage seeking, a confluence of people of the worst sort, people with selfish career ambitions and total shamelessness about using “social justice” rhetoric — reactive, radical, performative polemics and jeremiads — to game a meritocratic system being uprooted in the name of “equity” as they pursue personal profit, prestige, and power.
I mentioned earlier that I think Boylan’s timing is very suspect, and that’s because there are people eagerly looking to cynically benefit from a society that now sees victimhood almost as a kind of currency—a status that practically confers legal inviolability and valorization, even though it’s often the case that these egoic claims of being a “victim” can only be ascertained through self-reporting that none may dispute and all must affirm.
The excesses of the #MeToo movement, most notably the conflation of petty or innocuous behavior as something far more serious, are normalized in this new paradigm. And it’s not just about politics; this is about the countless awkward or shy men out there who’re borderline illiterate when it comes to gauging a woman’s interest, and their tendency to engage in misguided and cringe-worthy flirting.
Am I saying that Cuomo falls under this category? No, not at all, although he very well might in some ways. What I’m trying to underscore is that this shift has already resulted in men feeling the need to be guarded around women—especially in the workplace. It’s also led to men distancing themselves from female employees, which makes them (the men) come across as aloof and unknowing and even rude, and it shouldn’t be hard to understand how it might even contribute to mutual antipathy, if not outright hostility, between men and women.
For the record, I believe Cuomo should have absolutely been ousted from office for this.