NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — Calls for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation intensified late Monday after a third woman accused him of offensive behavior, saying he’d touched her face and back and asked to kiss her moments after they met at a wedding reception.
Anna Ruch told The New York Times late Monday that she removed the Democratic governor’s hand from her back, but he said she seemed “aggressive,” promptly put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her.
“I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed,” Ruch, now 33, told the Times, which published a photo of the encounter showing the governor’s hands on her face. “I turned my head away and didn’t have words in that moment.”
An email seeking comment was sent to Ruch’s photography business. Her social media accounts were private. An email was also sent to Cuomo’s administration for comment.
The account from Ruch, who worked as a photographer at the White House during President Barack Obama’s second term, made her the second woman to accuse Cuomo of touching her without permission, and fueled broader calls for Cuomo to step down, including from some in his own party.
Meanwhile, one of the women who said she was sexually harassed by Cuomo is rejecting his attempt to apologize for his behavior and excuse it as an attempt to be “playful.”
Charlotte Bennett said in a statement released Monday that the Democrat had “refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior.”
“As we know, abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences,” she wrote.
“It took the Governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation. These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice.”
New York’s attorney general said she’s moving forward with an investigation into the harassment allegations after receiving a letter from Cuomo’s office Monday authorizing her to take charge of the probe.
The referral letter allows Attorney General Letitia James to deputize an outside law firm to conduct the inquiry with full subpoena power. When the investigation is finished, the findings will be disclosed in a public report, the letter said.
James, in a statement announcing she received the letter, said: “This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously.”
Two women who’ve worked for Cuomo have come forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.
Bennett, 25, told The New York Times in a story published Saturday that the governor had questioned her about her sex life, told her he was lonely and looking for a girlfriend, and asked whether she would be open to a relationship with an older man.
A second former aide, Lindsey Boylan, has also accused Cuomo of harassment. She said Cuomo made inappropriate comments about her appearance and once kissed her without her consent at the end of a meeting.
In a statement Sunday, Cuomo maintained he had never inappropriately touched or propositioned anyone. But he said he had teased people about their personal lives in an attempt to be “playful.” He said he had wanted to act like a mentor to Bennett.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” he said.
His statement drew immediate backlash from critics who said he was throwing responsibility onto the women for perceiving his statements wrongly.
“That’s not an apology,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters Monday. “He seemed to be saying, ‘I was just kidding around.’ You know, sexual harassment’s not funny— it’s serious— it has to be taken seriously. And he just clearly was letting himself off the hook for something that for the women involved sounded pretty terrifying.”
de Blasio went on to call for a full investigation. “We need the whole truth of what happened, he said. “We need to make sure it never happens again.”
Even President Biden weighed-in on the harassment claims, through press secretary Jen Psaki, who told reporters in the White House briefing room, “We certainly believe that every woman coming forward— Charlotte, Lindsey- should be treated with respect and dignity and be able to tell their story.”
On Twitter, New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik called Gov. Cuomo a “criminal sexual predator,” saying “he must immediately resign.”
Several Democratic lawmakers in New York joined that call, including Bronx State Sen. Allesandra Biaggi, who, also on Twitter, said of the embattled governor, “You are a monster, and it is time for you to go. Now.”
The letter authorizing James’ investigation said that all state employees have been directed to cooperate fully with the review. Cuomo senior adviser Beth Garvey said she would facilitate interviews with witnesses and requests for documents from Cuomo’s office.
Bennett’s lawyer, Debra Katz, said her client will cooperate fully with the attorney general’s investigation.
“We are confident that no disinterested investigator who reviews this evidence would adopt the Governor’s self-serving characterization of his behavior as mentorship or, at worst, unwanted flirtation,” Katz said. “He was not acting as a mentor and his remarks were not misunderstood by Ms. Bennett. He was abusing his power over her for sex. This is textbook sexual harassment.”
Katz said the attorney general must investigate whether Cuomo subjected other women to a sexually hostile work environment, and whether anyone in the Cuomo administration enabled his behavior.
The referral came after a weekend of wrangling over who should investigate his workplace behavior. First, Cuomo’s office said it would ask a former federal judge to conduct the probe. Then, it suggested James and the state’s top judge work together to appoint outside counsel to look into the matter.
Finally, on Sunday, Cuomo acquiesced to James’ demands to take control the inquiry.
Charlotte Bennett‘s full statement:
The Governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior. As we know, abusers – particularly those with tremendous amounts of power – are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences. It took the Governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation. These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice.
“In a clear effort to perform a sensitivity that he simply does not possess, the Governor has implied that he wants his supporters to stand down and respect my decision to speak out. In coming forward I fully expected to be attacked by those who reflexively question the honesty or motivation of those who report sexual harassment. I am not deterred by these voices. Instead, I have focused on the overwhelming love and support I have received from friends and strangers alike. Thank you for holding space for me and lifting me up in what has been one of the most vulnerable moments of my life.
“Coming forward was an excruciating decision. I decided to share my story because I had faith that I would be supported and believed. This is often not the case. Sharing my experience was only possible because of past survivors who stood up and told their stories. I hope that my story helps other survivors feel like they can stand in their truth.
“To survivors reading this: I believe you. I see you. I hear you. Your story is valid, your pain is real and your anger is justified. I am sending you my love, support and solidarity. You are carrying an unbelievable burden — one that takes time and energy to untangle. Each journey, including my own, is a long and winding one. No two are the same. That said, I believe we can empower each other. For anyone who needs to hear this, know I am holding space for you, too.
“To the Governor’s survivors: I am here. Lindsey is here. You do not have to say a single word. But if you choose to speak your truth, we will be standing with you. I promise.Charlotte Bennett
The Associated Press contributed to this report.