The Human Rights Campaign has hired an outside law firm to investigate whether the organization’s president, Alphonso David, inappropriately helped Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo push back against sexual harassment allegations.
“This investigation ― which will take no longer than 30 days, will include consideration of whether Alphonso David’s actions aligned with HRC’s mission and values, as well as with professional and ethics standards,” reads an email that Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson — board chairs for HRC and the HRC Foundation, respectively — sent to HRC staff on Monday morning. HuffPost obtained a copy of the email.
“Alphonso David will be fully cooperating and has welcomed the investigation,” they said.
David was part of Cuomo’s tight inner circle, serving as his counsel from 2015 to 2019. The New York attorney general’s office last week released a bombshell report detailing its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the governor, and David appeared to have played a significant role in Cuomo’s efforts to discredit his accusers.
The report states, for example, that David provided a confidential file to Cuomo’s top aides, which they used to discredit one of his accusers, Lindsey Boylan. The former Cuomo staffer has accused the governor of sexual harassment, including an unsolicited kiss in his office and an invitation to play strip poker on a government airplane.
The report also states that David was involved in discussions about calling and secretly recording a conversation between a former Cuomo staffer and another Cuomo accuser named Kaitlin, who has not provided her last name. Kaitlin claims that in 2016, the governor grabbed her at a fundraiser and put her into a dance pose for photographers. She says the governor had his staff reach out to offer her a job two days later.
According to the report, David also initially declined to sign onto a letter aimed at discrediting Boylan and attacking her claims as political, but later told a Cuomo aide he would sign the letter “if we need him.” He also agreed to reach out to women who previously worked for Cuomo to try to get them to sign onto a statement saying positive things about the governor, per the report.
David was serving as president of HRC at the time of all these incidents.
After the report dropped last week, David publicly called for Cuomo’s resignation. And during a tense all-staff call with HRC employees, he said he didn’t know about the allegations against Cuomo until the report came out. But many HRC staffers on the call berated their president over the report’s findings that tie him to Cuomo’s attempts to smear his accusers. Several told him to resign.
“Alphonso, we will band together and take this to the board to request your resignation,” said one employee. “Are you willing to take down our org with you?”
HRC’s board has so far stood by David. It extended his contract for another five years last Tuesday — coincidentally, the same day the New York attorney general’s report dropped.
However, this investigation could change that. The board chairs acknowledged the blowback that HRC has faced over David’s connection to Cuomo’s efforts to smear his accusers.
“Over the past several days, HRC’s employees, supporters, board members and partners have raised questions about the appropriateness of Alphonso David’s actions and whether they align with HRC’s decades’ long mission of fighting for equality and justice for all,” they said in their email to staff.
David told staff on Monday that he supports the investigation into his role in Cuomo’s efforts to retaliate against his accusers.
“I fully endorse the decision of the boards of the Human Rights Campaign to conduct an independent review of the New York State Attorney General’s report,” David said in a company-wide email obtained by HuffPost. “It is an important effort to ensure the transparency that I have supported and engaged in with the board and staff since I joined this organization.”
David isn’t the only prominent progressive lawyer whose name came up several times in the Cuomo report. Roberta Kaplan, the chairwoman of Time’s Up and co-founder of its legal defense fund, was involved in an effort to discredit a woman who had accused the governor of sexual harassment. She resigned from the organization on Monday.