New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been charged with both professional and personal misconduct. His chief aide has admitted that Cuomo under reported the number of nursing home patients who died of Covid-19, and two former female aides have charged him with sexual harassment. But no matter how serious the charges against Cuomo may be, and no matter how unsympathetic a public figure he’s become, he’s entitled to the same due process of law which the United States Constitution guarantees to all who live within America’s borders.
What a difference a year makes!
Last spring Cuomo was hailed as America’s greatest hero for his leadership during the early stages of the pandemic. He won widespread praise for his coolness, compassion, and candor in explaining how New York under his leadership was meeting the pandemic’s challenge—in contrast to the conduct of a certain occupant of the White House at the time. He produced a best-selling book about his leadership and won an Emmy for his TV performances. But now he’s charged with both professional and personal misconduct. What to make of these charges?
Of the two major complaints against Cuomo—understating the number of deaths in New York nursing homes, and allegedly sexually harassing two former aides—the former is easier to document. His own top aide admitted that the Cuomo Administration reported that 8500 nursing home patients died of Covid-19, but that the actual number of such deaths was 15000. The irony here is that Cuomo—anointed by the media as the anti-Trump—had frequently criticized Trump for being “in denial over the severity of [the]coronavirus ‘from day one.’” Yet by understating the number of deaths in New York Cuomo was obviously practicing denial himself.
And it gets worse: The stated reason for the under-reporting was fear of a federal investigation. Could this be obstruction of justice? Moreover, the federal government was also using the data to try to track the progress of the pandemic. By supplying false data, Cuomo may have made the federal effort more difficult and less accurate. Trump may have botched the federal government’s initial reaction to the pandemic, but to the extent it was relying on Cuomo’s (false) data, Cuomo deserves blame as well.
More difficult to assess are the charges of two former female aides who, in the wake of Cuomo’s collapsing popularity, have charged him with sexual harassment. President Biden is on record as saying, “For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time. But nobody fails to understand that this is like jumping into a cauldron.” In short, Cuomo should be presumed guilty, at least unless he can prove his innocence.
Or should he? Shouldn’t he be entitled to the presumption of innocence? Shouldn’t his accusers have to do more than make ugly assertions for which corroborating evidence has not yet been forthcoming?
The answers, which should be obvious to everyone, are “yes,” and “yes,” whether he’s being charged with sexual harassment or supplying false data about coronavirus deaths. Without requiring accusers to make their cases is to make character assassination and criminal conviction too easy, even—or especially—if the accused is not guilty of the charges against him.
Cuomo’s cases are especially intriguing. Demands that Cuomo be stripped of his emergency powers, that he be thoroughly investigated, and that he even be subjected to impeachment and removal from office are coming primarily from Democrats. Their anger at him may well be an example of commendably setting aside partisanship in their quest for accountability. But within the Democratic Party Cuomo is widely considered a ruthless bully. The degree to which he is feared and disliked by his fellow Democrats may also be driving their efforts. Without the safeguards of the law, his Democratic and Republican political enemies could well have him punished–and for what? For lying about Covid-19 deaths to evade investigations and thereby obstruct justice? For sexual harassment? Or for just being a jerk?
But to insist Cuomo not be punished unless he’s proven guilty of particular crimes beyond a reasonable doubt and through due process of law is not just to protect him. It’s to protect all the rest of us from the power of those who would otherwise want to destroy us through accusations which they can’t prove but which we can’t disprove. The easier we make the oppression of anyone, no matter how obnoxious he might otherwise be, the more precedents we make which can someday be used against us as well. Cuomo’s alleged victims, either of his coronavirus falsehoods or of his alleged sexual harassment, are entitled to their days in court. But so is Cuomo. And so, too, are we all.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.