Gov. Cuomo Apologizes amid Sexual Harassment Claims but Insists, 'I Never Touched Anyone Inappropriately'
Amid widespread outcry, Andrew Cuomo apologized Wednesday for what he insisted was inadvertent misconduct after three woman came forward accusing him of sexual harassment — but he said he has no intention of stepping down as governor of New York.
During a press conference at the State Capitol (which CNN and Today shared footage from), the politician gave his first public comments since the scandal began to expand, saying, "I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable."
"It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it," Cuomo, 63, continued. "I feel awful about it and, frankly, I am embarrassed by it and that's not easy to say. But that's the truth."
"But this is what I want you to know, and I want you to know this from me directly: I never touched anyone inappropriately," he said, adding, "I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable ... And I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain."
He said that he would "fully cooperate" with an independent investigation being overseen by the state's attorney and asked for patience while he remained in office: "Wait for the facts from the attorney general's report before forming an opinion."
Cuomo also directly addressed the allegations made against him by the most recent woman to come forward: Anna Ruch, who said in an interview with The New York Times published Monday that the governor made unwanted physical advances toward her at a wedding in 2019 and asked if he could kiss her after placing his hands on her face.
"I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed," Ruch told the paper, also providing a photo of the latter alleged moment (while the Times published the photo that shows Cuomo's hands on Ruch's face, it's not clear what their exchange consisted of).
"I turned my head away and didn't have words in that moment," Ruch said.
Upon being asked about Ruch's account, Cuomo said Wednesday, "You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people — men, women. It is my usual and customary way of greeting."
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
Ruch joined two former aides to the governor who have accused Cuomo of harassment in recent months: first Lindsey Boylan and then Charlotte Bennett.
Boylan was an economic development adviser and stopped working for Cuomo in 2018 after three and a half years. She spoke out in December and subsequently detailed her allegations in a lengthy blog post last week, including a claim that Cuomo kissed her after a meeting.
"There is a part of me that will never forgive myself for being a victim for so long, for trying to ignore behavior that I knew was wrong. The Governor exploited my weaknesses, my desire to do good work and to be respected," she wrote in a lengthy post published on Medium. "I was made to believe this was the world I needed to survive in."
Bennett, an executive assistant and health policy adviser who left Cuomo's administration last year, spoke out this past weekend in an interview with the Times. She told the paper that Cuomo made uncomfortably personal comments to her, including asking if she had ever had sex with older men, saying, "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared."
Bennett also noted an occurrence where she said Cuomo complained to her about being lonely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, telling her that he "can't even hug anyone."
Bennett said that Cuomo then looked at her and asked, "Who did I last hug?"
Trying to maneuver away from the question by sharing that she missed hugging her parents, Bennett said while speaking with the Times that Cuomo then asked her, "No, I mean like really hugged somebody?"
RELATED VIDEO: CBS Fires Charlie Rose After 8 Women Accuse Him of Sexual Harassment
Cuomo has vehemently denied both of the latter women's stories, with a spokeswoman calling Boylan's claims of mistreatment, including the alleged unwanted kiss, "simply false."
The governor said Sunday in a statement, however, that he believed some of his past actions "have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation."
"To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry," Cuomo said in that statement, an apology he echoed on Wednesday. "To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to. That's why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations."
While several state lawmakers have called on him to step down from his role as governor, Cuomo said at Wednesday's press conference that he has no intention of doing so.
"I'm not going to resign," he insisted. "I work for the people of the state of New York. They elected me, and I'm going to serve the people of the state of New York."
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.