New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo isn't just facing political isolation and possible impeachment.
He may also be subject to criminal charges and civil lawsuits after Tuesday's bombshell report from the New York Attorney General's Office, which included detailed accounts from 11 women who said Cuomo engaged in unwanted groping, kissing, hugging and inappropriate comments.
One woman, identified as "Executive Assistant #1" in the report, said Cuomo reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast in November 2020 at the executive mansion, according to the 165-page report.
Cuomo has denied inappropriately touching anyone and vowed to stay in office despite calls for his resignation.
"That is just not who I am, and that is not who I have ever been," Cuomo said in a recorded video rebuttal on Tuesday.
Criminal vs. civil
David Weinstein, a former federal and state prosecutor, said he would not expect criminal charges to be filed against Cuomo anytime soon. And proving Cuomo committed a crime could be difficult under New York laws, he said.
"I think civil lawsuits and impeachment proceedings are going to happen a lot faster than any criminal charges," said Weinstein, who is based in Florida.
He said the accusers, nine of whom are or were employed by the state of New York, could file civil suits against Cuomo and possibly the state of New York for violating federal and state laws protecting employees against sexual harassment.
"It's something that creates this hostile work environment and something that none of us should be subjected to," he said.
But the question of whether Cuomo engaged in criminal behavior is far murkier, Weinstein said. New York does not have a simple battery law, he said, and its third-degree assault statute requires proof of physical injury.
The state does have a law barring "forcible touching," a class A misdemeanor.
According to the statute, a person is guilty of forcible touching when he or she "intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly touches the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person" or for sexual gratification. The law, which defines forcible touching to include "squeezing, grabbing or pinching," has a two-year statute of limitations.
"Given the high-profile nature of the governor, one would think that the district attorney in the jurisdiction where the potential forcible touching occurred would be looking for corroborating evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it took place," Weinstein said.
If he were a prosecutor in one of those jurisdictions, Weinstein said, he would start interviewing the accusers himself, along with other potential witnesses, and looking for supporting evidence.
"All eyes are watching, and this one's going to be a little bit harder," he said.
Domenique Camacho Moran, an attorney who specializes in employment law at Farrell Fritz in New York, said it's important to note that the attorney general's investigation was limited.
“While there was a lot of information that was provided in the attorney general's report, it’s critical to remember that it was based on interviews, and it was not fully fleshed out in a court of law, the way a criminal accusation will be," Moran said in an interview.
She noted that witnesses were not subject to an oath or perjury during interviews. "We should be careful about drawing a conclusion based on this preliminary stage," Moran said.
“That's not to question the integrity of the attorney general's investigation. I think they did everything that should be done in the context of a workplace investigation," Moran said. "But it's not the same as civil or criminal litigation.”
James' report said investigators did not reach a conclusion about whether the governor's conduct amounted to a crime.
"We understand that certain criminal authorities, including the Albany Police Department, have been alerted to the most egregious allegations of physical touching, including the groping of Executive Assistant #1," the report says in a footnote. "While concluding that the governor engaged in unlawful sexual harassment, we do not reach in this report a conclusion as to whether the conduct amounts to or should be the subject of criminal prosecution."
Ongoing investigations, multiple jurisdictions
Steven Smith, a spokesman for the Albany Police Department, said the governor's counsel informed local police about the incident in March – a step officials were obligated to take under state policy. Smith said, however, that the matter is not under investigation because police have not received a complaint.
"We had a conversation with the victim's attorney to offer up anything that they needed," he said. "At this time we have no complaint, and the Albany police is not investigating."
But soon after James' report was released, Albany County District Attorney David Soares said he would request the attorney general's investigative materials as part of an "ongoing criminal investigation." Soares encouraged "any victim" to contact his office with information.
“As this matter is developing and we are reviewing the document released by the Attorney General today, we will refrain from any additional public comment at this time regarding the status of the ongoing criminal investigation by our office,” Soares said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The district attorneys in Nassau and Westchester counties said they also would seek access to the attorney general's investigative files.
"As some of the Governor's conduct described in the report occurred in Westchester County, we have formally requested investigative materials obtained by the AG's Office. As this is an ongoing investigation, we will not comment further at this time," Westchester District Attorney Mimi Rocah said in a statement Wednesday.
Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said some people are misinformed when they think of sexual assault as only rape. "There's many, many forms of violations other than rape. And each of them is very serious," she said.
Sexual harassment allegations are not "any less serious than sexual assault, because these harmful behaviors are all on a spectrum and they contribute to one another," Palumbo said.
Contributing: Matt Spillane, of the Rockland/Westchester Journal News, and Joseph Spector
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Andrew Cuomo face charges over sexual harassment claims?