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Human Rights Campaign Fires President Alphonso David Over Report That He Helped Cuomo

The Human Rights Campaign has dismissed Alphonso David as its president, citing his efforts to help former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's staff respond to sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo. David is seen here in May.
John Amis
AP Images for Human Rights Campaign
The Human Rights Campaign has dismissed Alphonso David as its president, citing his efforts to help former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's staff respond to sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo. David is seen here in May.

Updated September 7, 2021 at 11:52 AM ET

The Human Rights Campaign has ousted Alphonso David as its president, saying it fired him for cause in the wake of a report that found he helped former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo respond to sexual misconduct allegations.

David's exit is contentious, with both sides accusing the other of spreading falsehoods.

"Expect a legal challenge," David, who has denied any wrongdoing, said in a tweet late Monday night. He accused the LGBTQ+ civil rights organization of "bullying and a cloak and dagger process" and said he was never shown a copy of an independent probe into his actions regarding Cuomo.

When it came time to vote on David's firing, two people abstained, but no one on the HRC's two governing boards voted against it, a source familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly told NPR.

The HRC hired David as its president two years ago, citing his work for marriage equality and his fight to end discrimination based on gender and other issues as well as his trailblazer status as an openly gay Black man who had just spent several years as Cuomo's chief counsel.

But the HRC now says David violated its conflict of interest policies as well as its mission by helping Cuomo's team respond to sexual harassment allegations last year. The rights group learned about David's actions — as well as his involvement in the official investigation into Cuomo — when New York Attorney General Letitia James released the results of her inquiry last month, the source told NPR.

David's name appears roughly three dozen times in James' investigative report, which concluded that Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women and prompted the governor's resignation. While some of the references date to David's work for the state, others refer to communications he had with the governor's staff after he became HRC's president. When David left his state government post, according to the Aug. 3 report, he took files with him that were related to one of Cuomo's accusers, Lindsey Boylan.

David sent the files to a top Cuomo adviser in December, two days after Boylan said in a tweet that Cuomo was "one of the biggest abusers of all time," the report said. When Boylan accused Cuomo of sexual harassment days later, the files were leaked to multiple media outlets in an attempt to undercut Boylan's credibility. The files David had shared were labeled as being privileged and confidential, the report said.

The HRC said that David's conduct has jeopardized the group's reputation and financial prospects and that the damage to his reputation has undermined his ability to lead the organization.

After the release of the attorney general's report, David joined those publicly calling for Cuomo to resign. He also defended himself from critics, saying he had been obligated to hand over documents about Boylan to the governor's administration.

David has acknowledged reading a draft of a letter Cuomo's team wrote to push back on Boylan's claims — a message intended to be signed by David and other former insiders, and possibly published as an op-ed. According to James' report, David refused to sign the letter but agreed to see if others would be willing to do so.

David has insisted he did nothing wrong, adding that he had supported an HRC move to hire the Sidley Austin law firm to conduct an independent inquiry into his involvement with Cuomo's office. David also noted that his attorneys had not been in the process of negotiating his exit — something he said the HRC has falsely suggested.

The HRC said that David's termination is effective immediately and that Chief Operating Officer Joni Madison will lead the group as it looks for a new permanent leader.

David's exit isn't the only fallout from the attorney general's report. Last month, Roberta Kaplan and Tina Tchen, two co-founders of the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, resigned from the anti-harassment group after the report detailed their ties to Cuomo's administration and their attempts to aid the governor's response to the allegations.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.