Ex-Buttigieg strategist, PR execs helped Cuomo fight accusations

CNN host Chris Cuomo isn’t the one media-savvy guru exterior Albany who quietly helped his huge brother fight sex-harassment allegations.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo enlisted a variety of politically linked advisers who weren’t a part of his workers — together with Pete Buttigieg’s former communications director and two executives at a prime public relations agency with ties to Sen. Chuck Schumer and Google, in accordance with the New York legal professional basic’s investigation. 

Lis Smith, a former 2018 Cuomo marketing campaign staffer who oversaw communications for Pete Buttigieg’s failed 2020 presidential bid, was a part of an “inner circle” of out of doors advisors that “actively consulted” with the scandal-battered governor as he responded to sexual harassment allegations, the investigation exhibits.

In one occasion, Smith — additionally recognized for courting one other scandal-scarred New York governor, Eliot Spitzer — gave Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa suggestions in a gaggle chat throughout one in every of Cuomo’s speeches in March, saying the governor wanted to sound extra “contrite” in response to harassment allegations, in accordance with the report.

Smith didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

In addition to Smith and Chris Cuomo, the governor’s internal circle additionally included two executives at Kivvit, a politically linked public relations and lobbying agency that was co-founded by Obama marketing campaign strategist David Axelrod in 2002 and has counted Google amongst its shoppers. The agency hired former New York Gov. David Paterson final year.

Lis Smith
Lis Smith, who oversaw communications for Pete Buttigieg’s failed 2020 presidential bid, helped Cuomo mount his protection in opposition to accusations of sexual harassment, in accordance with the legal professional basic’s investigation.
Tamara Beckwith/NY Post

Josh Vlasto and Rich Bamberger — former Cuomo staffers and present Kivvit managing administrators — are each named alongside Smith all through the damning investigative report into Cuomo’s alleged misconduct launched by the office of legal professional basic Letitia James this week.

Vlasto, who served as Cuomo’s chief of workers from 2013 to 2014 and has additionally labored for New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, first got here up with the concept to leak ex-staffer Lindsey Boylan’s confidential personnel information to the press after she accused Cuomo of sexual misconduct in December, Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa instructed investigators.

Vlasto then despatched the recordsdata to a New York Daily News reporter in an try and “discredit and disparage” Boylan, whereas his Kivvit colleague Bamberger and different Cuomo allies together with communications director Rich Azzopardi and Facebook communications supervisor Dani Lever helped distribute the paperwork to extra journalists, in accordance with the report. 

Josh Vlasto
Josh Vlasto, a former Cuomo staffer and present Kivvit managing director, allegedly got here up with the concept to launch Cuomo accuser Lindsey Boylan’s confidential personnel recordsdata.

Boylan is planning to sue Cuomo and his internal circle for retaliating in opposition to her, Boylan’s attorneys mentioned Wednesday. Her legal professional Jill Basinger didn’t instantly reply to a request for touch upon whether or not the swimsuit will particularly title Smith, Vlasto, Bamberger, Lever or different exterior advisors to Cuomo.

Pressed by investigators about leaking Boylan’s recordsdata, Vlasto testified that he believed the recordsdata offered “relevant context for the reporters … given that Lindsey [Boylan] was making accusations of harassment.” 

“Mr. Vlasto’s view was that if Ms. DeRosa had made the decision to disclose the information, it was ‘safe to say’ that the decision ‘was consistent with what the Governor wanted or had been discussed with him and he approved it,’” the report added. 

Even after Vlasto allegedly got here up with the concept to smear Boylan, he privately instructed associates that Cuomo’s office was a horrible place to work filled with “abuse and mind games,” in accordance with the bombshell report. 

“The odd part about these workplace stories — it’s not even close to what it was really like to work there every day. It was so much worse,” Vlasto wrote in March to an unidentified pal in a message that was unearthed as a part of the legal professional basic’s investigation. 

When a pal requested, “How so?” Vlasto replied, “The abuse and mind games.”

“But for me it never really bothered me. It was part of the deal,” he added. 

When Cuomo was confronted with a recent set of sexual harassment allegations in March, the governor approached Vlasto and requested him “take over the politics and press operation in leading the response to the assembly and all of [the] investigations,” Vlasto instructed investigators. 

Rich Bamberger
Rich Bamberger, a former Cuomo staffer and present Kivvit managing director, helped Cuomo try to collect signatures for a letter in December that “impugned [the] credibility” of accuser Lindsey Boylan, in accordance with the investigation.

He declined partially due to unspecified personal causes and likewise as a result of he didn’t imagine within the overly damaging “style” the Governor and his advisors have been adopting in response to the allegations, Vlasto instructed Investigators.

For his half, Bamberger — who had served as Cuomo’s communications director earlier than becoming a member of Kivvit — helped Cuomo try to collect signatures for a letter in December that “impugned [the] credibility” of Boylan in December and instructed that she might be working with supporters of then-President Donald Trump and a politician who wished to unseat Cuomo as governor, in accordance with the legal professional basic’s investigation. 

Lever, the Facebook communications supervisor who helped advise Cuomo, declined to signal the letter when requested as a result of it amounted to “victim blaming,” in accordance with the report. The letter was by no means launched however was seen by a New York Post reporter. 

The legal professional basic’s investigation instructed that exterior advisors like Bamberger, Vlasto, Smith, Lever and Chris Cuomo loved an inappropriate stage of entry to the governor. 

“None of them was officially retained in any capacity by the Executive Chamber or any of the individuals involved,” investigators wrote of the crew. “Nonetheless, they were regularly provided with confidential and often privileged information about state operations and helped make decisions that impacted State business and employees — all without any formal role, duty, or obligation to the State.” 

Vlasto declined to remark and Bamberger couldn’t be reached.

The duo have been “acting in their personal capacity” after they suggested Cuomo, Kivvit managing director Tom Meara instructed The Post. Meara didn’t answer a question about whether or not the 2 males had permission from their employer to work for his or her former boss on the aspect. 

Kivvit has greater than 100 workers in New York, Chicago and several other different US cities. Axelrod offered his stake in Kivvit 12 years in the past and is now not affiliated with the company, his spokesperson Allyson Siegal instructed The Post. 

David Axelrod
Obama marketing campaign strategist David Axelrod co-founded Kivvit in 2002 however is now not related to the company.
AFP through Getty Images

Other members of Cuomo’s internal circle who weren’t state workers included Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David, communications marketing consultant Steve Cohen and Jefrey Pollock, the founder and president of political communications agency Global Strategy Group.

In addition to advising Cuomo, Pollock’s web site says he works with Democratic US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ed Markey of Massachusetts — in addition to New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who stands to take over as governor if Cuomo steps down, and Attorney General Letitia James, whose office revealed the report into sexual harassment by Cuomo. 

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