CNN —  

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he will resign, relinquishing under extraordinary pressure his decade-long grip on power and heading off a potential impeachment by New York’s Democratic-led legislature a week after the release of a report by the state attorney general that found he had sexually harassed 11 women.

“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Cuomo said in remarks from New York City. “Therefore that’s what I’ll do.”

The son of another three-term governor, the New York Democrat indicated his announcement would take effect in two weeks. He will hand over the reins to his deputy of seven years, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo native who is now poised to become the state’s first female governor. Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will replace Hochul – meaning the state’s three highest offices will all be held, at least until Hochul appoints her own replacement, by women.

In the seven days since New York state Attorney General Letitia James made her report public, Cuomo faced new and more adamant calls to step down from both state and national Democrats. He initially pushed back, seeking more time, against the advice of trusted aides but ultimately relented and decided to resign before state lawmakers could begin a process that would likely have made him the first New York governor to be impeached in more than a century.

The announcement capped a remarkable fall for the governor, who was lauded for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 only to see his administration swallowed up in scandal – over his alleged sexual misbehavior, the underreporting of nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus and his potential abuse of public resources as he wrote a book last year about the pandemic in New York.

As his handling of the pandemic came under increasing scrutiny, including through an ongoing federal inquiry, a series of reports about his personal behavior left him politically stricken. Even now, as he prepares to leave office, Cuomo could potentially face criminal charges related to the allegations against him. He is also being sued by one his accusers, former aide Lindsey Boylan.

Cuomo has denied all of the allegations, saying he never touched anyone inappropriately, but acknowledged that some of his behavior made others uncomfortable.

He continued to skirt the line between apology and excuses during his remarks on Tuesday, thanking the women who came forward with “sincere” complaints, but – as he did earlier this year – he insisted that he was, politically, the victim of evolving social norms.

“In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone. But I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn,” Cuomo said. “There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate. And I should have – no excuses.”

Coming to Cuomo’s defense

Before Cuomo spoke, his personal lawyer, Rita Glavin, attempted to undermine the report that doomed him during a 42-minute monologue in which she claimed that the governor had been railroaded by a “mob mentality” among his critics.

Glavin accused James and investigators of bias and sought to chip away at each of the accusers’ allegations. In some cases, she issued full denials on Cuomo’s behalf. In another, Glavin sought to undermine the credibility of an accuser. She also claimed, as Cuomo did earlier this year, that a number of the women cited in the report misinterpreted his actions, which she said were innocent.

“They started with a presumption that he had done some terrible things,” Glavin said of the attorney general’s team, “and it went from there.”

She also addressed the allegations from a state trooper who was reportedly brought on to Cuomo’s protective detail at his personal request. Glavin insisted that Cuomo had sought to add her to the group in an effort to diversify the force and denied that the governor harassed her, but then apologized on his behalf – as it was described on a PowerPoint slide – “for anything he did that caused Trooper 1 discomfort.”

“I think that women should be believed and they should be believed and treated fairly,” Glavin said after cycling through accusations against Cuomo. “I also believe that men should be believed and treated fairly.”

Reacting to the governor’s departure

James did not respond to Glavin’s assertions or Cuomo’s charge that political motivations guided many of those who sought his departure, but said the governor’s resignation closed “a sad chapter for all of New York” with “an important step towards justice.”

“I thank Governor Cuomo for his contributions to our state,” James said in a statement. “The ascension of our Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, will help New York enter a new day. We must continue to build on the progress already made and improve the lives of New Yorkers in every corner of the state.”

Stewart-Cousins, the state Senate majority leader, told CNN on Tuesday that she was unsure whether the state Assembly would follow through with its impeachment process after Cuomo’s resignation.

“It’s up to the Assembly whether or not they want to continue down the path,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins dismissed Cuomo’s criticism of the report as politically motivated and pointed to the “evidence” turned up by the investigators.

“We all had confidence in the AG’s ability to take these women’s allegations seriously,” she said. “We’ve been very clear about zero tolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace.”

In a mark of how drastically the political winds have shifted in the aftermath of the report, New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, for years one of Cuomo’s closest allies, had been among those calling for him to resign. The governor had rebuffed him at first, last week, but when the announcement came on Tuesday, Jacobs in a statement did not mention the name of his longtime friend – instead focusing on the historic nature of Hochul’s ascent.

“New York will finally have its first female Governor and we could not be in better hands,” Jacobs said. Her experience at all levels of government – Town Board Member, County Clerk, Congresswoman, and Lieutenant Governor, makes her uniquely well-equipped to effectively govern the State at this time.”

Among progressives, who had warred with Cuomo from early on in his tenure, his decision was met with glee. The rivalry between the governor and the state’s left-wing lawmakers and activists exploded years ago over his blessing of an alliance between a breakaway band of Democratic lawmakers and state Senate Republicans, which helped keep Democrats out of the majority and stall the liberal policy agenda.

When Cuomo was challenged from the left by actress Cynthia Nixon in 2018, their contentious relationship descended into all-out political warfare. But in the end, despite his best efforts, many of the governor’s leading opponents outlasted him.

“The culture of bullying, abuse, and corruption under Andrew Cuomo has finally been brought to an end,” Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with our champions in the legislature to address the urgent issues facing working New Yorkers across our state, including record rates of homelessness, the slow disbursement of rent relief and the Excluded Workers’ Fund, and deep inequities in health care.”

She urged the legislature “to continue with impeachment proceedings so that Andrew Cuomo is never again elevated to a position of power.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose feuds with Cuomo had often consumed city and state politics, said the governor’s decision was “for the good of all New York.” De Blasio’s likely successor, Brooklyn Borough President and Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, a figure more ideologically in step with Cuomo, also praised the governor for standing down.

“The governor’s resignation was necessary for New York State to move forward and continue the critical work of our recovery,” Adams said in a statement. “I look forward to working in partnership with Lieutenant Governor Hochul on the key issues affecting our city and region at this pivotal moment.”

For all the political drama surrounding the report, Cuomo’s response to the allegations on Tuesday was similar to the explanation he had given months earlier. Still, his few moments of contrition failed to move his critics, whose ranks grew along with the number of allegations, including one that went back more than two decades to his time leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development under then-President Bill Clinton. A more recent allegation at a wedding in 2019 created the appearance of a pattern of behavior that enraged rivals and largely quieted his small circle of allies.

The calls for his resignation

The governor, who as recently as last year appeared to be a shoo-in to be elected a fourth time in 2022, had resisted calls for his ouster since late February, when allegations first piled up. But the damning details in the attorney general’s report led to another groundswell, this time from President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and powerful New York Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, the fourth-ranking member of the House Democratic leadership, and Gregory Meeks.

The public also swiftly turned on Cuomo, whose support was diminished during the scandals but had not – until last week – looked to be bottoming out.

Seventy percent of New York voters said Cuomo should resign, according to a new poll released last Friday by Quinnipiac University. That number included 57% of registered Democrats, 76% of independents and 88% of Republicans. Among Democrats, the figure had risen 34 percentage points since Quinnipiac last asked the question in March.

Cuomo’s approval rating fell to an all-time low of 28%.

The probe conducted by independent investigators hired by James found that Cuomo harassed current and former state employees, as well as a number of women outside of state government. The governor again had denied the allegations shortly after the report was released, but lawmakers in and out of New York had made their calls for his exit unequivocal in the days since.

“Recognizing his love of New York and the respect for the office he holds,” Pelosi said last week, “I call upon the Governor to resign.”

Biden, who had previously said he would await the report’s findings, also called on Cuomo to step down. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden had no regrets.

“The President made clear his views last week, and those stand. Our view is that this is a story about these courageous women who came forward, told their stories, shared their stories,” Psaki told reporters. “And the investigation overseen by the attorney general that, of course, completed today in an outcome that the President called for just last week.”

Biden’s message last week was the same one delivered by US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who reiterated their past calls for Cuomo’s resignation in a joint statement following the state attorney general’s findings.

“No elected official is above the law. The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor’s office. We continue to believe that the Governor should resign,” the New York Democrats said.

CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.

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