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Human Rights Campaign terminates president over how he helped Cuomo retaliate against an accuser

<i>Bita Honarvar/AP for The Human Rights Campaign</i><br/>Alphonso David was terminated Monday as president of the Human Rights Campaign over how he helped former Governor Andrew Cuomo retaliate against an accuser.
Bita Honarvar/AP for The Human Rights Campaign
Alphonso David was terminated Monday as president of the Human Rights Campaign over how he helped former Governor Andrew Cuomo retaliate against an accuser.

By Joe Sutton and Rob Frehse, CNN

The Human Rights Campaign has terminated its president Alphonso David following an investigation last month over his actions while assisting former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who was responding to an allegation of sexual harassment, according to a statement from the HRC.

In a response on social media, David said the termination was unjust. “As a Black, gay man who has spent his whole life fighting for civil and human rights, they cannot shut me up. Expect a legal challenge,” he wrote.

The dispute followed the resignation last month of the three-term governor following an investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James. In its aftermath, attention was focused on allies who helped shape Cuomo’s response to the allegations, which ​included alleged instances of retaliation against at least one accuser.

James released her report on August 3, concluding that Cuomo “sexually harassed multiple women and violated state law.”

Cuomo announced his resignation on August 10. He denied the sexual harassment allegations, saying he never touched anyone inappropriately but acknowledged that some of his behavior made others uncomfortable.

In her report, James noted David, who was then a counsel to the governor, had met Lindsey Boylan — who was the first person to publicly accuse Cuomo of sexually harassing behavior — during a counseling session in 2018, to discuss a conflict with another person in the Empire State Development Corp.

During her career with the administration, Boylan was chief of staff to the CEO of the ESD before she became Cuomo’s deputy secretary for economic development and special advisor.

Some of the confidential internal memos and documents “created by David and his team for and after a meeting with Boylan” were released by senior Cuomo staff members to reporters following her first allegation of sexual harassment against Cuomo, the report said.

David has said that he had an obligation as a lawyer to share his memo with Cuomo’s advisers, The New York Times reported.

In addition, according to the report, David was consulted — along with other supporters — by Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa on the draft of a letter or op-ed that “denied the legitimacy of Ms. Boylan’s allegations, impugned her credibility, and attacked her claims as politically motivated.”

David, according to the report, thought the op-ed was a bad idea. When asked by DeRosa whether he would sign a version of the letter, “David testified that he told Ms. DeRosa that he was not signing the letter but was willing to reach out to others to see if they would sign it,” the report said.

On the day James’ report landed, David on Twitter called on Cuomo to step down.

And on August 9, he tweeted a statement endorsing the HRC’s investigation into the report. He said that he had no knowledge of the misconduct outlined in the report, that he was not involved in the public dissemination of the memo about Boylan and that he had refused to sign a letter about her.

On Sunday, he tweeted about the investigation, saying he was told by two chairs of the HRC board and their representatives that “there is no indication of wrongdoing on my part,” but that they wanted him to consider resigning because the incident had become a “distraction” to the organization.

David added that he had the support of too many employees, board members and stakeholders “to walk away quietly into the night.”

‘Significant untruths’ alleged

According to the HRC’s statement late Monday, the board-led investigation led to a vote to terminate David “for cause, effective immediately, for violations of his contract with the Human Rights Campaign.”

The vote was unanimous from the HRC campaign board, while there were two abstentions to the vote within the HRC’s foundation board, according to a source familiar with the investigation. Nobody voted against the termination, the source said.

The organization said David released statements ​on Sunday and Monday that “included significant untruths ​about the investigation and his status within the organization.”

An email shared with CNN that the board sent to staff addressed David’s “significant untruths.”

It said that “Alphonso’s public statements and email to HRC’s staff yesterday and today contained a number of false and misleading statements about the investigation and his status within the organization that need correcting. At no time did we — the board chairs — tell him that there was no indication of wrongdoing, nor did we tell him we wanted this handled ‘quietly.’ This decision was made by the full boards of both HRC and HRC Foundation because of Alphonso’s own actions in support of Governor Cuomo. He alone bears responsibility for what he did and the consequences.”

In his response on Twitter, David said that while he sought truth and transparency, the “HRC board co-chairs who should stand for human rights elected to hide in darkness.”

He added they had unjustly provided notice of termination to me “in order to end my fight for the integrity of the review process and for what is right. I asked for the report, they refused. They lied about producing the report. Now that they are being called to task, they tried to shut me up.”

Last month, Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen announced she was resigning from her position at the women’s rights organization amid backlash over its connection to the scandal.

Tchen’s resignation came a day after The Washington Post reported that she had texted colleagues to “stand down” from a plan to release a statement in support of Boylan.

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