Maureen Dowd: Women who help men prey have been around forever

Report on Andrew Cuomo’s sexual misconduct makes clear his top adviser enforced culture of secrecy and fear

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Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson is an 18th-century British novel about a powerful man who makes life a horror for a pretty young maidservant by constantly harassing and assaulting her.

In the most shuddersome passage, he is aided in his efforts by Mrs Jewkes, his housekeeper, who holds down Pamela in bed while the master tries to have his way with the teenager. “Mrs Jewkes, abhorrent creature!” Pamela writes to her parents, calling the housekeeper a “vile procuress”.

Women who help men prey have been around forever. There may have been a brief period at the dawn of feminism when women thought the bonds of sisterhood would overcome this kind of behaviour. But our culture has seen many disturbing examples of it in recent years.

Harvey Weinstein could not have done it without his “honey pot” female assistants, as they’ve been called, women who initially joined in the meetings with Weinstein’s targets, making them feel safe, only to melt away. Roger Ailes could not have done it without the willing parade of assistants and publicists at Fox News; at the end, he also had loyal attack dogs in Jeanine Pirro and Kimberly Guilfoyle.

Jeffrey Epstein could not have done it without Ghislaine Maxwell, perhaps the vilest procuress since Mrs Jewkes. Interestingly, Maxwell’s name surfaced several days ago in a recording that was featured in the bombshell New York attorney general’s report on Andrew Cuomo’s sexual misconduct.

Pushing back on a phone call with two journalists from the Times Union of Albany last March, Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s imperious top adviser, can be heard bristling at the suggestion that the governor’s office was set up so that he had attractive young women in his line of sight. She rejected the idea that she was the friendly face who left Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old executive assistant, to endure Creepy Cuomo Time.

“Am I Ghislaine Maxwell in this situation?” she demanded of the journalists, adding, “So then when you presented it as, like, Melissa Ghislaine DeRosa introduces herself to the poor innocent Charlotte Bennett as she walks through the door with the governor and the place is lined up to look at them. And there’s a predatory figure in Christian Louboutins saying, ‘Nice, I’m so glad you’re here.’”

Fear and retaliation

DeRosa (38), daughter of a powerful Albany lobbyist, who prides herself on her work on women’s issues, is right. She’s no Ghislaine. At least she confronted the governor about the reckless nature of his unsettling conversation with Bennett, a sexual assault survivor.

“I can’t believe you put yourself in a situation where you would be having any version of this conversation,” she angrily told Cuomo in a car, jumping out at a traffic light, according to the report. But as Ross Barkan, author of a new book on Cuomo, wrote in New York magazine, “At every turn, DeRosa and her colleagues enabled Cuomo’s predation.”

Indeed, she helped lead efforts to discredit Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo aide and the first accuser to go public. After Boylan tweeted that the governor was “one of the biggest abusers of all time”, DeRosa got Boylan’s confidential personnel file, which contained complaints against her, and sent it to reporters, including the two at the Times Union, who told her on that call that they didn’t want it. Investigators called DeRosa’s move unlawful retaliation.

The 165-page report – in which DeRosa is mentioned 187 times – makes clear that she enforced a culture of secrecy, loyalty, fear and retaliation. One former Cuomo assistant, who testified that the governor grabbed her breast, kissed her on the lips and called her and a friend “mingle mamas”, told investigators that she believed it “was almost as if he knew he could get away with it because, if we were to say anything to anyone, he wasn’t the one that was going to get in trouble or go anywhere; it was going to be us”.

At Cuomo’s request, DeRosa also tried unsuccessfully to get 50 women who had worked for him at some point to sign a statement describing him as “strong tough respectful inclusive and effective”.

DeRosa directed a former staffer to call and record the conversation with a state employee who had tweeted her support of Boylan, in what the attorney general called a “fishing expedition” to see what other damaging information might be out there.

Cringeworthy

The report describes a draft of an opinion article that the governor wrote in response to Boylan that would have smeared her. Aides attempted to defang it just enough to be acceptable. DeRosa’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, read the letter to the head of the charity Time’s Up, and both women thought, with some stipulations against shaming women, it could be good to go.

This part of the report, in which an organisation, founded amid the #MeToo furore supposedly to support victims of sexual harassment, was freelance editing for the sexual harassing governor, was particularly cringeworthy.

Along with the governor’s brother, Chris Cuomo of CNN, and Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, Time’s Up was part of a trio of liberal facilitators – known for finger-wagging and virtue-signalling – that helped the governor behind the scenes and ended up enmeshed in the scandal.

Andrew Cuomo couldn’t get a handle on his ego or stop indulging in Albany droit du seigneur. Now comes a mudslide that may wash away him, his brother’s reputation, the careers of DeRosa and company, and his family’s legacy. – New York Times

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