Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Alphonso David is facing calls to resign from a number of HRC staff members after a blistering report from the New York Attorney General’s office connected David to an effort to cover up and discredit sexual harassment claims against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
According to the 168-page report released by New York Attorney General Letitia James Tuesday, David provided the confidential personnel file of former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan, one of Cuomo’s first accusers to go public with her claims, at the request of Melissa DeRosa, a top-ranked aide to Cuomo. David, whose contract with HRC was extended by five years the same day the AG report was released, previously worked alongside Cuomo as head of his legal team before being named HRC president in 2019.
The AG’s report states that DeRosa requested David provide her with Boylan’s “full file” after the former aide went public with her claims against Cuomo on Twitter in December 2020. According to the report, DeRosa’s request to David came on Dec. 9, 2020 after Boylan called Cuomo “one of the biggest abusers of all time” on Twitter. DeRosa shared Boylan’s tweets with David at that time as well.
David fulfilled the request on Dec. 11, 2020, sending Boylan’s file, which according to the AG report might have included information protected by attorney-client privilege between David and Boylan, to Cuomo advisor Rich Azzopardi, who subsequently distributed the documents to major press outlets.
David told the Washington Post that he did not know the file would be leaked. They reported that he counseled Boylan during a personnel complaint against her and he said “By law, I am required to provide my former client, New York State, with any documents with regard to my representation.”
The Post also quote an unnamed person with knowledge of the case who noted at the time in a diary entry that they thought it strange that this file, unrelated to Boylen’s relationship with the governor was passed to reporters, “I didn’t think it was a great rebuttal to what she was saying,” this person wrote, “The counseling session didn’t have anything to do with sexual harassment (there was none alleged at the time).”
“Azzopardi then obtained a separate copy of the personnel files from the counsel’s office and started to give them to reporters in an effort to raise questions about her credibility, according to investigators.”
The report categorized this as “a series of responsive actions that were intended to discredit and disparage Ms. Boylan.” Azzopardi claimed that the files were released simply to show that Boylan was fired, but the documents actually show that Boylan resigned voluntarily after continued harassment from Gov. Cuomo. Boylan left the governor’s office in 2018 after experiencing years of sexual harassment from Cuomo, culminating in him kissing her without her consent.
“I’ve been sexually harassed throughout my career, but not in a way where the whole environment was set up to feed the predator and this and every interaction I had with the Governor and the culture felt like it was all to feed the predator,” Boylan testified in the AG report.
The report also states that David declined a request to sign a letter discrediting Boylan’s claims and labeling them as politically driven, but he later said he would sign the letter “if you need me too.” It also connected David to efforts to discredit an additional Cuomo accuser named Kaitlin. According to the report, David discussed calling and secretly recording a conversation between Kaitlin and a former employee of Cuomo’s office.
The AG report concluded that David was counted among “the inner circle of confidantes … with no official role in the Executive Chamber” that were “brought in to control and direct the response” to allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo.
“The common thread among all of these individuals was a proven, personal loyalty to the Governor. Their inclusion in the deliberations and the significant role they had in decision-making reflect how loyalty and personal ties were valued as much, if not more, than any official function or role in State government,” read the report.
David joined the chorus of people calling on Cuomo to resign following the AG report’s release Tuesday, but his close ties to the governor and connection to efforts to cover up and discredit Cuomo’s accusers at the same time he held the position of HRC president have brought him under fire as well.
Out gay Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel stated Wednesday that she would no longer accept political donations from or support HRC, one of the largest LGBTQ advocacy groups in the nation, until David is replaced as president of the organization. Other notable LGBTQ politicians, including Senators Tammy Baldwin and Kyrsten Sinema and Representatives Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres, both of whom represent districts in New York, are yet to weigh in on the matter.
According to The Huffington Post, multiple HRC employees called on David to resign in a testy all-staff meeting Wednesday. A recording provided by a source present during the meeting displayed a number of staffers pulling no punches with David during the meeting. “You are creating a toxic environment where partners can’t trust us,” an employee said.
David continually denied his involvement in discrediting Cuomo’s accusers as the AG report described it. He denied agreeing to sign the letter meant to disparage Boylan, stating that he instead agreed to “talk about my personal experience at the governor’s office.” David responded to questions about handing over Boylan’s file to DeRosa by saying he was legally obligated to do so.
When asked why he had Boylan’s file in the first place since he left Cuomo’s employ in 2019, David dodged the question, saying that the Boylan file he sent Azzopardi was only a copy of the official state document rather than the actual one.
David also reiterated that he stood by his actions and denied having any knowledge of Cuomo’s actions with female staffers. “No one ever disclosed allegations of harassment with me, either during or after I worked in state service. Also, I never saw anything,” David said during the meeting.
His responses did little to quell HRC staff members. One staffer pledged to “band together and take this to the board to request [David’s] resignation,” adding, “Are you willing to take down the org with you?” David responded to calls for him to step down by again denying any knowledge of the culture of harassment around Cuomo and stating, “I think one of the important lessons here is to highlight how harassment and discriminatory behavior hides in the darkness, and how my experience can actually be used to effect change.”
“Alphonso was a great lawyer today, ducking questions and reframing answers,” an HRC employee told The Huffington Post.
HRC is yet to comment publicly on the situation or David’s status with the organization.
Alphonso David: Previously on Towleroad
Screenshot via YouTube