Even if we were certain Gov. Andrew Cuomo underwent mandatory sexual harassment training for government employees when he was supposed to back in 2019, one doubts anything would be different for the New York governor on this bleak August Wednesday morning.
He would still be holding onto his job by a thread, hoping his excuse — that he comes from a generation where kissing and hugging were considered normal behavior and not seen as being untoward advances — could see him through a Tuesday report that alleges he sexually harassed at least 11 women.
However, maybe his explanation would hold a bit more weight if he had actually undergone that training. According to the report, the signature attesting to the fact that Cuomo had done so was written by an aide, not the governor himself.
Or maybe he would have learned, as the training noted, that sexual harassment was “any unwanted verbal or physical advance, sexually explicit or derogatory statement or sexually discriminatory remark that is offensive or objectionable to the recipient.”
If that didn’t save him from his bad behavior, it might have saved him from the defense of that behavior that he gave on Tuesday.
According to the Daily Caller, Stephanie Benton, Cuomo’s office director, admitted she forged the governor’s signature on a 2019 document supposedly certifying he had undergone a course called “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.”
On July 28, Albany, New York, ABC affiliate WTEN-TV first got hold of the document. It had originally requested it on March 1 but hadn’t received it until last Wednesday.
A week after denying my appeal, the NYS Executive Chamber sent me a document that appears to be signed by Governor Cuomo, attesting that he finished the required sexual harassment training. I requested these documents on March 1. @WTEN pic.twitter.com/q98jvQHBAP
— Giuliana Bruno (@GiulianaBrunoTV) July 28, 2021
The signed form says: “I hereby attest that I have completed the following mandatory training courses,” along with Cuomo’s name and signature.
“I asked for the date of the last time the Governor took the training. The document they sent me is from 2019,” WTEN’s Giuliana Bruno tweeted.
I asked for the date of the last time the Governor took the training. The document they sent me is from 2019.
— Giuliana Bruno (@GiulianaBrunoTV) July 28, 2021
That was another red flag, inasmuch as the sexual harassment training is supposed to be done annually. (Ironically, it was the Cuomo administration’s 2018 Women’s Opportunity Agenda that introduced this requirement.)
Gov. Cuomo’s history of sexual harassment training wasn’t exactly on the front-burner on Tuesday when New York Attorney General Letitia James’ report was released.
“Ms. James’s report largely confirms previously reported accusations by current and former state employees who said Mr. Cuomo, 63 years old, sexually harassed them or acted inappropriately in the workplace. It also includes several whose accounts hadn’t previously been reported,” wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Jimmy Vielkind.
“Ms. James said the violations of law alleged in the report were civil in nature and that her office wouldn’t pursue a criminal investigation or charges. But she said other agencies could pursue cases.”
However, buried in the report was confirmation that Benton forged Cuomo’s signature on the form, something one of Cuomo’s accusers had alleged in March.
In a March interview with CBS News, Cuomo accuser Charlotte Bennett said Benton took the training for the governor in 2019.
“In 2019, he did not take the sexual harassment training,” Bennett told Norah O’Donnell.
“I was there. I heard Stephanie say, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this for you,’ and making a joke about the fact that she was completing the training for him. And then I heard her at the end ask him to sign the certificate.”
The governor’s office said at the time that Benton “categorically denies the exchange” and that “this is not true.”
“Some state employees take an online course; for Executive Chamber Senior Staff, the training takes the form of personal review of documentation,” Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, told CBS. “The Governor did this review of the mandated material and completed the training.”
James’ report disputes the governor’s participation.
“A review of the signature on the attestation form shows that the signature looks different from the Governor’s signature on official documents,” James’ report states in a footnote.
Furthermore, Benton admitted under sworn testimony that the signature on the document was hers — and Cuomo didn’t seem to recall much about his sexual harassment training, either.
The report states on page 48 that “in her sworn testimony, Ms. Benton admitted that she was the one who signed the 2019 sexual harassment training attestation form for the Governor, after they both claimed the Governor reviewed the training material. The Governor also testified that he does not specifically recall taking the sexual harassment training any year other than 2019.
“In response to our request for all certifications or records of completion of training for the Governor from January 1, 2013 to the present, the Executive Chamber has only been able to produce that one attestation form for 2019 for the Governor,” it continued.
Again, if it didn’t stop him from sexually harassing women, perhaps it could have stopped him from his embarrassing attempt to explain away his alleged behavior on Tuesday.
“I try to put people at ease, I try to make them smile. I try to connect with them, and I try to show my appreciation and my friendship,” Cuomo said in a video message, according to the Journal. “I now understand that there are generational or cultural perspectives that, frankly, I hadn’t fully appreciated.”
All one has to say is that if Cuomo did undergo the sexual harassment training his aide forged his signature for, he sure didn’t absorb much of it.
There are 165 pages of the James report cataloging plenty of incidents that fall under the aegis of “any unwanted verbal or physical advance, sexually explicit or derogatory statement or sexually discriminatory remark that is offensive or objectionable to the recipient.”
It’s almost as if Cuomo is just suddenly discovering the rules actually apply to him.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.