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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Resigns, Effective in 14 Days; Battle Heats Up over Masks in Schools as Cases in Kids Surge. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired August 10, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We'll get into the detail in the days ahead.
Thank you so much for joining us on this very breaking news day of Inside Politics. More ahead this after New York Governor Cuomo in the wake of a damning sexual probe. Also awaiting, we have President Biden. He will speak soon at the White House, that, again, after the Senate passing a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Don't go anywhere. Ana Cabrera picks up our breaking news coverage right now.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.
The breaking news, a seismic shift in the world of politics and a stunning fall of one of the nation's most well-known leaders, a growing scandal ultimately bringing down New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
We were planning to play a sound bite there with the governor as he made his announcement of his resignation. We'll work to get that. But even before he came out and made this announcement, his lawyer came out holding a separate press conference where she categorically refuted the New York attorney general's report that accused Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexually harassing 11 women.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RITA GLAVIN, ATTORNEY FOR GOVERNOR CUOMO: From day one, this was about building a case against Governor Cuomo. The investigators, if you go through the report with a discerning eye and give it the scrutiny that it deserves, it failed to collect relevant evidence. The investigators credited people that they know had had lied in the past or had motives to lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: And now I want you to hear from the governor himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): And I would never want to be unhelpful in any way. And I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing, and, therefore, that's what I will do because I work for you and doing the right thing is doing the right thing for you. Because, as we say, it's not about me, it's about we.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: So what's next? Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take Cuomo's place in just two weeks.
CNN's M.J. Lee is following these dramatic developments today. M.J., this is a profound day in American politics.
M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. Really a stunning development, Andrew Cuomo, three-term governor, will no longer be governor of New York in exactly 14 days. This is a man who has been the king of New York politics for so many years. He has been a major figure in national politics as well, especially becoming a big household name throughout the COVID crisis.
But you heard him say there, for the good of New York, he believed it was time for him to step aside. Just think about all of the things he confronted, multiple sexual harassment allegations, there's an impeachment inquiry that is ongoing here in Albany, here in New York. He had really lost the support of fellow Democrats and allies.
I just want to play a sound of him responding to some of the sexual harassment allegations that he has been confronting in recent days. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: The report said I sexually harassed 11 women. That was the headline people heard and saw and reacted to. The reaction was outrage. It should have been. However, it was also false. My lawyers, as you just heard from Rita Glavin, had reviewed the report over the past several days and have already raised serious issues and flaws that should concern all New Yorkers. Because when there is a bias or a lack of fairness in the justice system, it is a concern for everyone, not just those immediately affected.
The most serious allegations made against me had no credible, factual basis in the report. And there is a difference between alleged improper conduct and concluding sexual harassment.
Now, don't get me wrong. This is not to say that there are not 11 women who I truly offended. There are. And for that, I deeply, deeply apologize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: So it's clear that before announcing his resignation, he wanted to try to clear his name at least when it comes to these sexual harassment allegations. Now, a few minutes ago, we did hear from the lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul. She said that she supports Cuomo's decision to step aside and she herself is are ready for the job. But, Ana, obviously, the reality is that the job that she is inheriting is a very, very tough one, particularly when it come to the COVID crisis and the state budget here in New York.
And no doubt about it, this is a huge day for not only New York politics but for national politics as well. Ana?
CABRERA: M.J. Lee, thank you so much.
I want to bring in New York State Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn. Thanks for being with us.
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo vowed to fight. Are you surprised he resigned today?
RODNEYSE BICHOTTE HERMELYN (D), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY MEMBER: Well, thank you, Ana, for having me on.
Look, we all expected Governor Cuomo to resign. This is the beginning of the end of a nightmare for New York State but the start of the opportunity to have a woman to run the state. And although this is historical and profound moment, it comes to no surprise certainly everything was headed towards a resignation after the attorney general's report was released, and not to mention with the two additional women stepping forward about their experiences with the governor.
Resigning was the right thing for him to do or going to be the right thing for him to do, but it also could be strategic for him. And as you know, as of today, the judiciary committee is still proceeding with the anticipation of an impeachment process. So, if Cuomo decides to resign before the proceeding starts, we have to decide whether we can further impeach process legally.
And in that event, it would be very similar to Trump in terms of the impeachment process. But unlike the federal system, senators would be the only judges and the jurors. And the judges from the state's highest court, which is the Court of Appeals, would hear the case. Cuomo resigns will not bar him from running in the future. So, again, I think that's a very strategic move for him.
CABRERA: Okay, I understand what you're saying. However, we do know that he can't be impeached if he's out of office. So like you said, two weeks is when he's supposed to resign, two weeks from now. We'll see where it goes. What I'm hearing you say is impeachment process will continue up until that point.
I do want to get some reaction from a couple of the governor's accusers who apparently, through their attorney, are saying they feel vindicated and relieved that he will no longer, quote, be in a position of power over anyone. What message do you think his resignation sends to the victims of sexual harassment, not just his own accusers but other victims of sexual harassment?
HERMELYN: I think that the message it sends that if we speak out loud, uniformly and with solidarity, that justice and all of us who have been a victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault, we can be vindicated. I think this was a movement of movement that's been waiting for so long in terms of hearing the voices of victims who has been abused by, in particular, men of power.
And so I think it just sends a message that New York is changing. The state of New York is changing. The workplace in which we work is changing. So I think it sends a strong message to everyone. And now you will see probably more women running for these higher positions because people will feel more comfortable with women being in these positions, nurturing and doing the work that is called for for them.
CABRERA: Again, just to reiterate how big this is. Andrew Cuomo was the governor for the past ten years. His father was New York governor as well for at least a couple stints. This is a political dynasty ending this way.
HERMELYN: It's historical. It's profound. This is huge, as you mentioned. And, again, this resonates with all of us in telling the state of New York that we can no longer be abused. Power is given by the people and the people have spoken. And so we are ready to take on this historic moment and potentially let a woman run the state of New York.
CABRERA: Can I just really quickly circle back to what you said at the top, which is, if he resigns, do you think that he will still try to run again?
HERMELYN: Well, I think that was strategic and I would not put anything past Governor Cuomo. You mentioned that he came from a dynasty, more than 40 years of having control and power over the state of New York. So when you are raised and bread with power like that, there's no stopping.
And so I do feel that there might be a potential for him to run again, not to mention the polls are also saying that people would reelect him. There was a poll that came out yesterday that said about 26 percent of voters would vote for him and the rest of the numbers were split amongst like 12 or other 13 potential candidates. So, in his mind, he feels that he may have another shot at this.
CABRERA: We'll see. New York State Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, thank you so much for being with us.
And just in, we saw the White House reacting to Governor Cuomo's announcement, his resignation, and just reiterating that that is something the president had called on him to do as of last week.
Let's get some reaction now and talk about what's next with a couple great legal minds, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig is here, he's a former state prosecutor and state prosecutor, and Areva Martin, a CNN Legal Analyst and civil rights attorney, is joining us as well.
Elie, prior to this announcement, his lawyer came out swinging. What do you make of this one-two punch?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Ana. There's a reason that Rita Glavin, the defense lawyer for Governor Cuomo, came out and spoke before the resignation because this is not over legally for Governor Cuomo. Two things to watch for.
First of all, any or all of these 11 complainants can sue the governor, can sue the state of New York civilly, meaning for money damages. To win those cases, they need to prove their case by what's called the preponderance of the evidence, which means basically 50.1 percent of the evidence. The other thing to watch for is criminal charges.
Now, it's important to understand, that's a much higher burden of proof. You have to prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt. We now know that numerous district attorneys are looking at this. But one thing to keep in mind, those D.A.'s are not going to be able to use the volume of evidence. The fact that there was 11 complainants had had a big impact on the decision to resign. The D.A. is not going to be able to say to a jury there were 11. They have to focus on the one complainant in that case that makes it a much harder to case to charge and prosecute.
CABRERA: Areva, a key line of this defense that we're hearing now from Governor Cuomo's team seems to be, yes, he's called people, darling, he's hugged or kissed people casually, he's asked personal questions, but he didn't know his actions made people uncomfortable. They say this just doesn't rise to the level of harassment. To that, you say what?
AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I say that's a ridiculous argument to be made by the governor of state of New York. It's really shameful. And I agree with Elie that there was a legal reason why the lawyer came out and spoke. She tried to discredit the women have come forward in preparation for what she knows will be civil lawsuits, as well as potentially criminal charges. But it was really shameful the way that she discredited the women and then to see the governor to do the same.
For a governor to say he didn't understand that his conduct was offensive, that it was sexual harassment that he was engaging in to try to suggest that somehow because of his age or his generation, those are the same tired arguments, Ana, women have heard for decades. And we've lived through Bill Cosby, we've lived through Harvey Weinstein. The governor has been put on notice and that notice occurred long ago. And, unfortunately, it appears that his conduct has been -- he has engaged in this conduct before.
The difference now is that the times have changed. Women have more power. They are taking agency over their workplaces and they are saying enough is enough. And what we saw today was just a shameful attempt, I think, by this governor to dismiss and undermine these women. CABRERA: Again, there's a couple different legal paths here. There's the civil and then, of course, the criminal. We know there's at least one criminal complaint that has been filed against the governor, both the Albany County sheriff and the Albany district attorney say Cuomo's resignation won't impact their investigations. So, Elie, do you think this hurts his case in any way because he's resigning?
HONIG: So, that's interesting. That could play either way, Ana. It could be seen as sort of an admission that he did something wrong, it also could be seen to take some of the political pressure off of D.A.s. And believe me, D.A.s think about these kind of things. They're elected in New York State and it will be a question of how important is it that that we take action against them.
One thing I do want to also echo that Areva said that I think is such an important point. Some of the attacks that we heard Rita Glavin make on these complainants are sort of age-old attacks that get made against women who come forward and allege sexual harassment, sexual assault, that I really think are outdated and we need to absolutely get rid of.
This idea that, well, why didn't someone come forward, go to the police the day of. Well, this person stayed at the mansion, she smiled, she ate snacks, she could not have been assaulted or harassed. That is nonsense and I think that needs to end and I think this was a step towards that.
CABRERA: Areva, there's one criminal complaint that the governor is facing is from an accuser who just spoke publicly yesterday, Brittany Commisso, Cuomo's attorney spent a lot of time trying to poke holes in her story specifically.
She said dates don't line up. Legally, is that going to present a challenge for prosecutors in this case?
MARTIN: Well, we don't know all of the evidence that the prosecutors may have at their disposal if and when they make a decision about filing criminal charges against governor. Obviously, the credibility of this witness is going to be incredibly important, obviously, any eyewitnesses.
But what we know about sexual harassment complaints, Ana, is, typically, they are he said, she said. Rarely is there an eyewitness. Rarely is there someone standing right there as this harassment conduct is happening, particularly when you're talking about groping and touching someone's private parts.
But what the investigative report tells us is that there are corroborating witnesses and evidence that will help support the allegations that have been made by Brittany. And I do want to echo just how important this day is, Ana, for women. I have been involved with sexual harassment cases for over two decades, and we have seen this seismic shift in the way women are being believed.
What we know is that 87 to 94 percent of women don't even come forward and file complaints. And although Brittany is not African-American, African-American women filing complaints three times the rate of white women.
So this day is so significant for all women, and particularly for African-American and other women of color who have historically not been believed when they have come forward. To see women be able to put the kind of pressure that was put on Governor Cuomo to force him to resign his office is really significant.
CABRERA: And as far as other evidence goes, Elie, the lawyer did really sort of hone in on photos. She says there're no pictures of the governor doing the alleged misconduct, for example, grabbing somebody's butt, and yet she showed a picture of one of his accusers smiling in a selfie with the governor, with her arm around her shoulder, could that stand up in a court of law or was that more about the court of public opinion?
HONIG: I think it was geared at both, Ana, and I think that's a perfect example of the kind of thing I'm talking about, saying, well, here's a photo of the governor with this complainant moments after the allegation happened or shortly after happened. And, look, she is smiling, she seems fine. I don't think that's an accurate way to deal with accusations. I don't think it's a fair way to deal with accusations. And, again, I think our thinking on that has been evolving and needs to continue to evolve. It's really overly simplistic.
Could that we used as sort of defense in some sort of case. They could try it. I don't know how much resonance it will have with the jury. I don't think it should have much with the judge or jury if -- huge if -- if it ever gets to that point. And, remember, that is a very high burden of proof that prosecutors have to meet.
CABRERA: Elie Honig and Areva Martin, I really appreciate both of you. Thank you for being here for us today.
MARTIN: Thank you.
CABRERA: Now, Kathy Hochul has served as New York's lieutenant governor since 2015. She is now set to become the state's first female governor.
CNN's Miguel Marquez joins us now. Miguel, what do we know about Hochul?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, look, she's 57 years old. She is a mother of two. She's been married 37 years. She is from Buffalo. She's also served at every level of government. She was in the House of Representatives, obviously at the state level right now. She served as Erie County clerk and she served on the Hamburg Town board at one point as well. She brings a much different governing style and style generally to politics, and certainly to Albany, when all is said and done. She visits all the counties in the state, all 62 counties every year. She gets around to them and she has basically made herself available over the years at almost every sort of event around localities and towns around the state as well.
This is somebody who has been preparing as well, has been very well aware of what is happening and has been preparing for some time. She was critical of the governor when the allegations first came out in the spring and she has tweeted today, I agree with Governor Cuomo's decision to step down. It is the right thing to do in the best interest of New Yorkers. As someone who has served at all levels of government and is in next in line of succession, I am prepared as New York State's 57th governor.
We do know from one source that is dealing with the administration that they are looking at all of the executive orders, all the personnel decisions that Governor Cuomo has signed and has made. When he leaves office, those will be up for either renewal or for changing or for doing away with.
There were also billions of dollars in the American Recovery Act that she will have to figure out how to do. New York State, like all states, still recovering from the pandemic. The economy, jobs, all of that will be front and center. They have been working on this for some weeks already.
So she will have to hit the ground at an absolute sprint. Ana?
CABRERA: And, again, she says she is up to that challenge, ready to lead. Miguel Marquez, thank you.
Fighting back, some school officials now taking a stand on masks as Republican governors try to block basic safety measures in the classroom. Caught in the middle, the kids.
Plus, it's a big win for the president. But the $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal could be derailed over a much bigger fight already underway. We will hear from the president moments from now.
Stay with us. You're live in the CNN Newsroom.
CABRERA: Today, growing outrage in the battle over masks in school.
Children, many, too young to get vaccinated, are stuck in the middle. The cases spiking like never before, 94,000 COVID infections were among children just last week.
Let's get right to two states at the center of this heated fight, Florida and Texas. And, Rosa Flores, first, to you. What is the latest there in Florida?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, it's a mess here in the state of Florida. You've got school board officials and these are elected officials that are having to balance safety of the students that they serve with threats from governor's office with withholding paychecks. Superintendents are also getting these exact same threats. So, the threat is that they must follow Governor Ron DeSantis' executive order on masks.
Now, I should be clear that this executive order is not a ban on mask mandates. The rules were issued on Friday when it does say is that schools must give students option to opt out of these school mask mandates. So what we have seen just this past weekend is school districts, some of the largest school districts in this state issuing mask mandates and allowing parents to opt out.
That's what happened here in Orange County where I am, same in Hillsborough County. That's in the Tampa area. We just got the numbers from the district. They say that about 18,000 students have opted out. That's about 10 percent of the population.
Now, this conversation is happening right now in Broward County. School board members there are debating. They are trying to figure out if students will be wearing masks or not, if it will be mandatory or not. And here's what's happening outside. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you going to do, discriminate him? Are you going to bully him into wearing a mask?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's not what we do. We love our students.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't believe that. I want my child to go to school free and unmasked. I want my child to get a quality education.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have job to do for our children. And our job is to voice and speak for our children. That's our right. Absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you have your rights to your mask.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have your right to your mask. We should have our right to unmask.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FLORES: Ana, there's a lot of division on this. Now, I did ask the governor's office about this growing number of school districts that are issuing mask mandates and allowing students to opt out. And the governor's office says that all of the school districts out there are okay, except for two, and that's the Leon and also Alachua County.
Now, according to the governor's office, these two counties don't have an opt out option for all students and that is what the governor's office has an issued with according to its executive order. Ana? CABRERA: And yet I know the superintendent of Leon County has said he couldn't, with conscience, not move forward with that mandate in his district.
Let's head to Texas now. Ed Lavandera is in Dallas for us. What's the lay of the land there today, Ed?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, kind of a similar argument and similar fight that you're seeing, a slightly different style of bubbling below the surface here in large part because Governor Greg Abbott hasn't really come out and responded directly to the two school districts that have announced they will require masks from students, teachers and administrators when classes resume here in the next week.
Dallas and Austin School Districts are saying that they will require these mask mandates on Thursday night. Houston School District will meet them and it's expected that school district as well will join in essentially going against the mandate that the governor here in Texas has issued, who has been saying for weeks that, at this point, it's the, quote, personal responsibility of Texans to help get the coronavirus under control.
But that is a style of governing that is coming as the number of hospitalizations continue to skyrocket in this state. We're in about 9,400 people hospitalized with COVID. We haven't seen numbers that high in Texas since early February. And because of that, the Dallas school superintendent says he needs to be able to put this mask mandate in place.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANIE ELIZALDE, SUPERINTENDENT, AUSTIN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: I recognize that in a society where interests conflict, there can be no absolute response that will rest with all of our constituents or stakeholders. That being said, I am responsible for the safety, the health and welfare of each and every one of our students and our staff. And if I error, I must error on the side of ensuring that we have been overly cautious, not that we have fallen short.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: That was the superintendent of Austin schools.