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09 August 2021

Ex-Cuomo aide speaks out about groping allegations

09 August 2021

An executive assistant who has accused New York governor Andrew Cuomo of groping her has detailed why she felt empowered to go public with her allegations, as a key legislative committee is set to discuss possible impeachment hearings.

Brittany Commisso, one of nearly a dozen women whose accounts of alleged sexual harassment by Mr Cuomo were outlined in a report by the state’s attorney general, told her story for the first time on camera in an interview that aired on Monday.

Ms Commisso became the first woman to file a criminal complaint against Mr Cuomo, giving a report to the county sheriff last week.

She said she waited to publicly have her name attached to the allegations because she was fearful of retaliation.

Brittany Commisso, left, answering questions during an interview with CBS correspondent Jericka Duncan on CBS This Morning (CBS This Morning and Times Union via AP)

“I was afraid that if I had to come forward and revealed my name, that the governor and his enablers, I like to call them, would viciously attack me, would smear my name, as I had seen and heard them do before to people,” Ms Commisso, 32, said in a joint interview with CBS and The Times Union of Albany.

She said she also wanted to protect her daughter, but now feels speaking out shows her that “she has a voice”.

“I never want her to be afraid to speak,” Ms Commisso said.

“I never want her to be afraid of any person in power, a man or a woman.”

Ms Commisso said the Democratic governor groped her for the first time on December 31 2019.

According to Ms Commisso, Mr Cuomo suggested the two of them take a selfie together.

She said: “He was to my left. I was on the right. With my right hand, I took the selfie. I then felt while taking the selfie, his hand go down my back on to my butt, and he started rubbing it. Not sliding it. Not, you know, quickly brushing over it – rubbing my butt.”

I was embarrassed

Ms Commisso, who began working as an executive assistant in the governor’s office in 2017, said this made her so nervous that her hands began to shake, making it difficult for her to even take the picture.

“I was embarrassed,” she said.

Ms Commisso said Mr Cuomo groped her a second time at the governor’s mansion in November 2020.

After shutting the door, “he came back to me and that’s when he put his hand up my blouse and cupped my breast over my bra”, she said.

“I exactly remember looking down, seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my God. This is happening’.”

Asked about the allegation that he had grabbed Ms Commisso’s breast, Mr Cuomo responded, according to a report from the state attorney general, by saying “I would have to lose my mind to do such a thing” to a woman he hardly knew, with multiple staff members around.

Mr Cuomo has denied touching any women inappropriately and said the alleged groping encounter never happened.

The Associated Press does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual misconduct unless they decide to speak out publicly, as Ms Commisso has done.

The interview aired as Mr Cuomo faces another day under fire.

Scores of Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have urged Mr Cuomo to leave office.

Melissa DeRosa (Mary Altaffer/AP)

About two-thirds of state Assembly members have already said they favour an impeachment trial if he refuses to resign. Only a simple majority vote is needed to begin an impeachment trial.

Mr Cuomo will be going into the fight without his former top aide, Melissa DeRosa.

Ms DeRosa, a steady presence at Mr Cuomo’s side during his months of coronavirus news conferences, resigned late on Sunday, saying the past two years had been “emotionally and mentally trying”.

The administration has been in crisis since last week, when a report made public by state attorney general Letitia James concluded that Mr Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women.

Mr Cuomo’s lawyers have attacked the attorney general’s investigation as biased in favour of his female accusers.

At least five district attorneys have asked for materials from the attorney general’s inquiry to see if any of the allegations could result in criminal charges.

Albany County sheriff Craig Apple said on Saturday that Mr Cuomo could face misdemeanour charges if investigators substantiate Ms Commisso’s complaint.

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