Andrew Cuomo accuser says she worried ‘enablers’ would destroy her

Former staffer says she feared speaking of alleged groping as New York governor’s aide resigns

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

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

 

An aide who has accused Andrew Cuomo of groping her has said in her first televised interview that she was initially afraid to identify herself because she worried the New York governor’s “enablers” would destroy her if she spoke up.

Brittany Commisso, an executive assistant on Mr Cuomo’s staff, detailed her interactions with the Democrat in a joint interview with CBS and The Times Union of Albany that was broadcast on Monday, as a key legislative committee said it would recommend whether to impeach Mr Cuomo within “several weeks”.

Ms Commisso has spoken out before, first in an anonymous interview with the Times Union last winter, and then as one of 11 women who said they were sexually harassed by Mr Cuomo whose allegations were detailed in a report by the state attorney general’s office last week.

She was also the first woman to file a criminal complaint against Mr Cuomo, giving a report to the county sheriff on Thursday.

But until now, the public has not heard her tell her own story.

“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,” said Ms Commisso (32).

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.”

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

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

About two-thirds of state Assembly members have said they favour an impeachment trial if he refuses to resign, according to an Associated Press count.

Only a simple majority vote is needed to begin an impeachment trial.

The Assembly’s judiciary committee met to discuss how to wrap up an ongoing probe of Mr Cuomo’s conduct with women, and of other matters, including the use of staff to help with his $5 million book deal and his administration’s decision to withhold full statistics on Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes from the public.

Aide quits

Mr Cuomo will be going into the fight without his former top aide, Melissa DeRosa, who resigned late on Sunday, saying the past two years had been “emotionally and mentally trying”.

Melissa DeRosa, New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s then top aide, at a news conference in March 2019. Photograph: Cindy Schultz/New York Times
Melissa DeRosa, New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s then top aide, at a news conference in March 2019. Photograph: Cindy Schultz/New York Times

The report made public by state attorney general Letitia James said Ms DeRosa played a lead role in trying to protect Mr Cuomo from harassment claims.

Among other things, it said she was involved in giving reporters personnel memos about Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to accuse him publicly of harassment.

The records described Ms Boylan’s exit from the administration amid allegations that she had mistreated her own staff.

In her interview on CBS, Ms Commisso said Mr Cuomo groped her for the first time on December 31st, 2019, when the governor suggested the two take a selfie together.

“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.”

Ms Commisso, who began working 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’.”

Denials

Mr Cuomo has repeatedly denied that the episode took place.

In an interview with investigators with the state attorney general, he said “I would have to lose my mind to do such a thing” to a woman he hardly knew, with multiple staff members around.

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

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. – AP