ALBANY, N.Y. (NewsNation Now) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized Wednesday in his first news conference following sexual harassment allegations that have led some members of his own party to call for his resignation.
Cuomo said he wanted New Yorkers to hear from him directly, despite guidance from attorneys to withhold comment until an independent review is complete.
“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward, and I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it,” Cuomo said during the briefing, which was also dedicated to the latest data on the coronavirus pandemic.
Cuomo said he “never touched anyone inappropriately,” and that he never knew at the time that he was making anyone feel uncomfortable.
“I have learned from what has been an incredible, difficult situation for me, as well as other people,” Cuomo said. “I’ve learned an important lesson. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone. I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience.”
Cuomo asked for the public to “get the facts” before forming an opinion, saying he will fully cooperate with the investigation being conducted by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
That inquiry has yet to begin. James is in the process of selecting an outside law firm to conduct an investigation into the allegations and produce a report that will be made public.
Gov. Cuomo also told reporters Wednesday that he has no plans to resign.
Prior to Wednesday, Cuomo hadn’t taken questions from reporters since a Feb. 19 briefing, an unusually long gap for a Democrat whose daily, televised updates on the coronavirus pandemic were must-see TV last spring.
He was last before video cameras Thursday, when he introduced President Joe Biden at a virtual meeting of the National Governor’s Association, which he chairs. He also participated Tuesday in the group’s conference call, which was off-limits to reporters.
The public absence was more glaring after legislative leaders announced Tuesday they were limiting the governor’s broad powers to unilaterally set state policy during the pandemic.
Under the bill, Cuomo would still have the power to keep alive his existing COVID-19 rules or tweak them. But he’ll no longer be allowed to make decisions without any input from the Legislature. He’ll have to notify legislative committees and local governments and respond to their questions in certain circumstances.
The governor is also facing criticism for withholding, for months, a full accounting of the number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19.
One former aide, Charlotte Bennett, 25, said Cuomo quizzed her about her sex life and asked whether she would be open to a relationship with an older man. Bennett rejected Cuomo’s attempted apology, in which he said he’d been trying to be “playful” and that his jokes had been misinterpreted as flirting.
Another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, said Cuomo commented on her appearance inappropriately, kissed her without her consent at the end of a meeting, and once suggested they play strip poker while aboard his state-owned jet. Cuomo has denied Boylan’s allegations.
And another woman, Anna Ruch, told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her at a September 2019 wedding.
During the press conference Wednesday, Cuomo told reporters that kissing is his “usual and customary way of greeting.”
“However what I also understand, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter my intent. What matters is, if anybody was offended by it. And I could intend no offense, but if they were offended by it, then it was wrong,” Cuomo said.
Most leading Democrats have signaled they want to wait for the results of James’ investigation before calling for action.
State Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs, a close Cuomo ally, said it’s “premature” to opine before the investigation concludes.
Several members of the National Governors Association said they support the investigation, but didn’t say whether they think he should resign as chair. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the association’s vice chair, called the allegations against Cuomo “very serious” but said it’s up to Democratic governors to decide who will chair the NGA.
“I’m glad there’s an independent investigation that’s ongoing, and I think we should all wait until the results of that independent investigation and see where that conclusion leads everyone,” the Republican governor told reporters.
U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said New York’s congressional delegation in Washington has not met on the issue but “everyone is monitoring the situation closely.”
“Well these are very serious allegations and they require a very serious investigation,” Jeffries told reporters Tuesday. “I’m confident that Attorney General Tish James will get to the bottom of everything, release a report that’s fully transparent and then we can decide the best way to proceed thereafter.”