Politics

Cuomo follows well-used playbook by scandal-plagued politicians: deny wrongdoing, wait it out

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is laying low ever since releasing a video response denying the allegations of sexual harassment from 11 women illustrated in a state attorney general’s report as the public and political figures, including President Biden, call for his resignation.

For months, Cuomo has ignored pressure to leave office over this scandal as well as his alleged cover-up of nursing home coronavirus deaths, waiting out news cycles while insisting he has done nothing wrong – a strategy used by many others in the past.

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Another Democrat who pressed on in the face of sexual misconduct allegations was President Bill Clinton. After Paula Jones raised allegations of sexual harassment, Clinton denied wrongdoing only to later settle a lawsuit for $850,000 while remaining in office. Clinton also managed to survive far more serious allegations, such as Juanita Broaddrick’s rape accusation and Kathleen Willey’s claim that he groped her.

Then there was an impeachment that at its center was an extramarital affair with a college intern. Clinton initially denied his involvement with then-21-year-old Monica Lewinsky only to publicly admit it while still in office, but he rode out the scandal, getting acquitted by the Senate and serving in office for nearly two more years until his second term ended.

Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen noted the similarities between Cuomo and the former president, saying that the governor was using the “Clinton playbook” to handle his current woes.

“Cuomo has learned the lesson from Bill Clinton that if you are shameless and unrepentant and refuse to resign, you can survive anything,” Thiessen said.

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One need not look back that far to find instances of scandal-plagued officials who resisted pressure to resign and waited out scandals. Former President Trump faced a yearslong investigation of alleged ties between his campaign and Russia and obstruction of justice and two impeachments. He also faced claims of extramarital affairs, a rape accusation from E. Jean Carroll and a sexual assault allegation from Summer Zervos. 

Rather than resign amid the scandals, Trump pushed back with emphatic denials of any wrongdoing. In the cases of Carroll and Zervos, whom he called liars, this strategy resulted in defamation lawsuits against the ex-president that remain ongoing months after Trump completed his term.

A prime example of a recent situation where a leader was mired in controversy but waited until the public’s attention waned is Ralph Northam, who is still the governor of Virginia more than two years after a photo from his medical school yearbook page that depicted someone in blackface and another in a KKK hood. Northam denied being in the photo even though he had previously said he was and had apologized for it. 

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Like Cuomo today, Northam then faced calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats, including then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., but he refused to do so. 

The similarities between the Northam and Cuomo situations led University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato to tweet in March, “#Cuomo is pulling a Northam.”

Eventually, the national conversation moved on from Northam, who resisted the calls to leave office and went on to rehabilitate his image within the Democratic Party, in large part by championing liberal policies on issues, including gun control, civil rights and marijuana.

Republican Mark Sanford is yet another case of an official who continued in office following a scandal – in his case a particularly bizarre one. Sanford was governor of South Carolina when he disappeared in 2009. While his office had said Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail, Sanford reappeared after six days with an admission that he had run off to Argentina while engaged in an extramarital affair. 

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Not only did Sanford not resign after this episode, he remained governor until 2011, and in 2013 won a congressional election. He served in the house until 2019, then went on to launch a failed 2020 primary challenge against Trump.

Time will tell if Cuomo’s strategy will turn out to be as successful as it was for others. He already appears to have escaped legal consequences for the nursing home scandal as the Justice Department decided not to investigate him further. Nevertheless, an impeachment probe continues and prosecutors in multiple counties are now looking into sexual misconduct allegations.


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