Gov. Andrew Cuomo used photos of Obama and Bush hugging hurricane victims to defend himself against a flood victim's sexual harassment allegation

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo used photos of Obama and Bush hugging hurricane victims to defend himself against a flood victim's sexual harassment allegation
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
  • Cuomo used photos of presidents comforting hurricane victims to defend himself against harassment claims.
  • A flood victim accused Cuomo of "forcibly" kissing her while touring her property in 2017.
  • Cuomo's attorney likened the governor's behavior toward the woman to Bush and Obama's treatment of disaster victims.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo used photos of former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama comforting hurricane victims to defend himself against the state attorney general's report on Tuesday that he sexually harassed multiple women.

An attorney for Cuomo, Rita Glavin, included more than 40 photos of Cuomo and other lawmakers hugging and kissing various people in an 85-page statement released Tuesday afternoon. Glavin used some of the photos to defend Cuomo against an allegation by Sherry Vill, a flood victim, that Cuomo "forcibly" kissed her and "manhandled" her while visiting her property after a 2017 flood.

"The Governor's embrace of Ms. Vill occurred during an attempt to comfort her during a difficult time, while the two of them were surrounded by her family and the press," the statement read. "The Governor's interactions with Ms. Vill are not different than thousands of similar interactions that he and other politicians have had with numerous victims of natural disasters and other tragedies."

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The defense points to a 2012 photo of Obama hugging a tearful female victim of Hurricane Sandy and a 2005 photo of Bush hugging Sandra Patterson, whose Mississippi home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Vill told NBC News that Cuomo acted "aggressively" towards her.

"I felt he was coming on to me in my own home," Vill said. "I felt like I was being manhandled."

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Vill told media outlets and the attorney general's investigators that Cuomo kissed her without her consent on both cheeks and called her "beautiful" in front of her son and others. The investigators wrote that Vill's account of being grabbed by the face and kissed was similar to other complainant's accounts. Vill was not among the 11 named women who the report found made credible allegations of sexual misconduct against Cuomo.

"Perhaps sensing her discomfort, Ms. Vill informed us that [Cuomo] said something along the lines of 'That's what Italians do-kiss both cheeks,'" the investigators wrote.

The statement included several other photos of Obama, President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other top lawmakers embracing each other and constituents.

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During a televised statement on Tuesday, Cuomo insisted that he touches people's faces and hugs them to "convey warmth and nothing more."

"You can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people: women, men, children, et cetera," Cuomo said. "You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people, men, women. It is my usual and customary way of greeting."

The attorney general's investigation, which was conducted by independent attorneys, found that Cuomo violated both federal and state law by sexually harassing multiple female members of his own staff, state employees, and a state trooper. It also found that Cuomo and his aides retaliated against at least one former aide after she made her allegations public.

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"The independent investigation found that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging, and by making inappropriate comments," Attorney General Letitia James said during a press conference on Tuesday.

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