Days after Lindsey Boylan became the first woman to accuse Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of sexual harassment in a series of Twitter posts in December, those associated with the governor distributed an open letter they hoped former employees would sign would.
The letter was a sweeping assault on Ms. Boylan’s credibility, suggesting that her allegation was deliberate and politically motivated. It exposed personnel complaints filed against her and attempted to link her to supporters of former President Donald J. Trump.
“The weapon of sexual harassment allegations for personal political gain or publicity cannot be tolerated,” the letter concluded. “False claims compromise the veracity of credible claims.”
According to three people with direct knowledge of the events, the original idea was to have former Cuomo aides – especially women – put their names on the letter and spread it fairly widely.
Several drafts were made and Mr Cuomo was involved in the creation of the letter, said one respondent. Current advisors to the governor emailed at least one draft to a group of former advisers. From there it circulated to current and former top aides to the governor.
It is not clear how many people were asked to sign the letter, but two former officials who spoke on condition of anonymity for not wanting to upset Mr. Cuomo decided they did not want their names on it.
The letter, which was reviewed by the New York Times, was never published. Ms. Boylan did not immediately draft or follow up on her Twitter posts in December, so her allegations may fade, along with the urgency of efforts to discredit her. Still, the letter shows that the Cuomo administration was ready to quickly and aggressively undercut Ms. Boylan, a Democratic candidate for Manhattan District President.
At the time, officers in the governor’s office were aware of another sexual harassment issue involving Mr. Cuomo that had not yet been made public.
Six months earlier, Charlotte Bennett, an executive assistant and executive officer, had told two senior officials in the governor’s office that he had molested her and asked her personal questions, including whether she was monogamous and whether she had slept with older men .
Ms. Bennett went public with her allegations in the New York Times last month, saying in an interview how she “understood the governor wanted to sleep with me,” adding that she was “feeling terribly uncomfortable and scared “.
Ms. Bennett answered just days after Ms. Boylan wrote one Essay on MediumMs. Boylan wrote that the governor would repeatedly try to touch her arms, legs and lower back and that he once suggested that they “play strip poker.”
Since then, several other women have accused Mr. Cuomo of inappropriate behavior, from unwanted sexual advancement to unsolicited kisses and faps.
The governor has denied ever touching anyone inappropriately and has asked New Yorkers to await the outcome of two separate investigations: one monitored by Attorney General Letitia James and another monitored by the State Assembly. While Mr. Cuomo has suggested that some of his actions or statements may have been misinterpreted, his rejection of Ms. Boylan’s allegations was far more arduous.
“I believe a woman has the right to speak and speak up and to express any problems and concerns she may have,” Cuomo said on December 14th. “But it’s just not true.”
Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, said Tuesday that the government had made no comment on the letter on Ms. Boylan, citing the ongoing investigation.
At least one version of the letter contained Ms. Boylan’s text exchange with some of Mr. Cuomo’s senior advisors last year to indicate that she was malicious. The Times does not quote extensively from the letter to avoid posting character attacks that have not been made public.
The draft largely despised Ms. Boylan and accused her of using her claims for “political retaliation”.
The letter noted that Ms. Boylan’s campaign advisor was also a political opponent of the governor and that Ms. Boylan “was supported by lawyers and donors from Donald Trump: an active opponent of the governor”.
The original plan for a letter to be sent to Ms. Boylan illustrated how the Cuomo government was willing to make wider efforts to damage its credibility.
The approach seemed consistent with a culture of intimidation by the governor’s office described by former aides, and Ms. Boylan was clearly a target.
The three-time governor faces two crises at the same time:
The Wall Street Journal reported last week These aides to Mr. Cuomo shortly after Ms. Boylan’s Twitter posts called at least six former aides accusing the governor of molesting her in front of others. The calls were intended to ask if the former aides had heard of the prosecutor or learned anything about them. Some of the contacts felt that the calls were supposed to keep them from expressing themselves.
Another accuser of Mr. Cuomo and another former aide, Ana Liss, said she received a call from a top advisor to the governor shortly after Ms. Boylan tweeted about the governor in December.
“I thought why should he do this?” Ms. Liss, who now works for Monroe County, said in an interview. “He was trying to confirm how broad Lindsey’s network was.”
On Tuesday, Ms. Boylan’s attorney Jill Basinger said the letter was another attempt to smear her client.
“Once again, a victim of sexual harassment who has the courage to tell her story will be able to relive not only the trauma of a toxic work environment, but also the malicious leakage of alleged personnel files, assassinations and characters to defend a whispering campaign of retribution, “said Ms. Basinger. “This page needs to be torn from the governor’s harassment manual.”
Such tactics are so commonplace in harassment claims that they have their own acronym: DARVO, which stands for “Denying, attacking and repenting victims and perpetrators”.
“It’s incredibly common for people who experience sexual harassment to experience retaliation,” said Emily Martin, vice president of education and justice at work for the National Women’s Rights Center, which runs Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. “We have heard of thousands of people seeking help tackling harassment in the workplace, and more than 70 percent of them say they experienced retaliation.”
Shortly after Ms. Boylan first accused Mr. Cuomo, several media organizations released details of her personnel files released by the Cuomo administration, including flattering reports of Ms. Boylan’s previous actions as boss and recommendations for disciplinary action against her.
For the supporters of Mr. Cuomo, who has denied any wrongdoing, the documents were exonerating and painted a picture of an angry employee with an ax to grind.
Beth Garvey, Mr. Cuomo’s acting attorney, defended the disclosure of Ms. Boylan’s recordings, saying Tuesday that, with certain exceptions, it is at the discretion of a government agency to share edited employment records, including in cases where members of the media request such public information and when it is used to correct inaccurate or misleading statements. “
She also cited the Attorney General’s investigation and made no additional comments.
The speed at which the documents were delivered has been exceptional, especially considering that statehouse reporters in Albany and elsewhere are used to waiting months, if not years, for state access to public records Freedom of Information Act.
“The government has a well-documented record that FOIL is fairly closed,” said Blair Horner, the executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, noting efforts to shut down reporters who were Joseph Percoco, a close advisor to Mr. Cuomo , who was convicted of corruption allegations by the federal government in 2018. “There are sizeable and consistent examples of this that make it extremely difficult to keep records.”
Sexual harassment attorneys stated that an employee’s work experience is irrelevant to whether or not they can make a claim.
“There’s no defense against harassment that the person was a bad employee,” said Elizabeth Kristen, a senior attorney with Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco, adding, “It’s not even relevant. Perhaps she was the worst employee the world, but it could still be harassed. “
Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed to the coverage.