Cuomo advisors used campaign aide to dig up dirt on an accuser who was running for office, records show
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Melissa DeRosa
Andrew Harnik | AP
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closest advisors used a campaign finance aide to seek potentially damaging information on Lindsey Boylan, who has accused him of sexual harassment, according to records made public by the New York Attorney General’s office.
Melissa DeRosa, who was the top aide to the governor, told investigators about the effort to find the information and potentially plant a negative story about Boylan during a probe into Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment of former aides and associates.
DeRosa told investigators that she believed Boylan was working together with other prominent New York politicians to bring down Cuomo. She also said at the time that Cuomo’s team did not end up trying to plant the story they were aiming to put together on Boylan. Richard Azzopardi, Cuomo’s chief spokesman, was also sent and received emails about the effort, according to the exhibits.
Cuomo has denied all wrongdoing. He resigned in August after state Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report detailing her offices’ findings into Cuomo’s behavior.
Azzopardi and an attorney for DeRosa did not respond to emails seeking comment. Boylan did not return a request for comment before publication.
During DeRosa’s interview with state investigators earlier this year, she explained that she was attempting to acquire a list of donors who supported Boylan when she ran for Manhattan borough president. Azzopardi told investigators that they were also looking into vendors who worked with Boylan’s campaign for Congress.
Boylan, who once worked in the Cuomo administration, accused the former governor of harassing her last year. She ended up losing in a Democratic primary for Manhattan borough president. When she ran for Congress during the 2020 election cycle, lost in a primary to Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.
A Cuomo campaign finance director sent DeRosa and Azzopardi an email about Boylan’s donors in January, according to the records released by James’ office. DeRosa and Azzopardi received a list about Boylan’s vendors in February. The attorney general concealed the name of the campaign finance director that sent the emails to the Cuomo advisors.
“Let me know if we should dig into any,” the Cuomo campaign aide wrote to DeRosa and Azzopardi in February, while including a list of over two dozen campaign vendors that once worked for Boylan.
Cuomo’s team was attempting to link Boylan’s campaign finance records to possible political motivation to hurt the then-governor, DeRosa told investigators. The vendor and donor lists were listed publicly.
DeRosa told investigators that Cuomo’s team pulled campaign finance information related to Boylan, state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, the progressive Working Families Party and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is running for governor himself in next year’s race. Biaggi, who once worked in Cuomo’s office, has said the governor oversaw a toxic workplace. She told CNBC previously that she was a witness for the attorney general’s probe.
“And you can see in this instance, I asked for Alessandra Biaggi, Boylan, the WFP [Working Families Party] and Jumaane Williams because I believe they are all working together,” DeRosa told investigators, according to a transcript.
“Working together in what sense?” an investigator asked.
“To take down the governor,” DeRosa responded.
Susan Lerner, the executive director of sate campaign finance watchdog Common Cause/New York, criticized the efforts on behalf of Cuomo.
“This type of behavior is not illegal, it is just disgraceful,” Lerner said she viewed the records the Attorney General’s Office released late last month.
Lindsey Boylan attends The 9th Annual Elly Awards Hosted By The Women’s Forum Of New York on June 17, 2019 in New York City.
Mike Coppola | Getty Images
The Attorney General’s Office blocked out the names of the donors provided to the Cuomo advisors by the campaign aide. But CNBC compared the redacted list included in the exhibits of the documents released by the attorney general with the public disclosure file of Boylan’s past supporters that backed her during her run for Manhattan borough president.
The names of the donors shown to the Cuomo team in January include Bradley Tusk, the CEO of Tusk Strategies, and a member of the Allen family, who founded the investment firm Allen & Company.
Once done reviewing the records, DeRosa at first believed that there could be a campaign finance violation embedded in the donor files. She was eventually dissuaded by Azzopardi and another Cuomo advisor that no such violation existed, according to the transcripts. Still, DeRosa noted to investigators, “I thought it was a story to plant.”
“I didn’t realize it initially, but I thought that there was campaign finance fraud because of the way that the donors were laid out,” DeRosa told investigators. “There was specific donors listed to different addresses which is like a – it appeared at first as if somebody gave money from different addresses, which would have been campaign finance fraud because it would have impacted the public matching funds.”