Andrew Cuomo’s top aide pulled a downright dirty — and possibly illegal — trick to try and impugn one of the then-governor’s sexual harassment accusers, The Post has learned.
Cuomo’s right-hand aide Melissa DeRosa recruited a top MTA official as a spy to secretly record a phone conversation with an ex-executive staffer identified as “Kaitlin” who subsequently became one of the governor’s accusers.
The ploy is revealed in transcripts of state Attorney General Letitia James’ probe of Cuomo and confirmed by sources to The Post.
What potentially puts the ethically dubious ploy on thin legal ice is that Kaitlin was in California during the call — and under California law, both sides of a conversation need to give their consent before it’s recorded.
“This secret recording is shocking and we do believe it was illegal,” Kaitlin’s lawyer, Zoe Salzman, told The Post.
DeRosa asked MTA communications director Abbey Collins, who previously shared the same office with Kaitlin when they both worked in the governor’s office, to reach out to her and secretly record their conversation in a bid to find out if she was allied with Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to publicly air sexual harassment complaints against Cuomo, and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx), a critic of the then-governor’s interactions with women.
Kaitlin, employed in another state agency after working in the executive chamber, had tweeted in support of Boylan at the time DeRosa set Collins on her.
The details were laid out in the thousands of pages of documents and transcripts of interviews released this week by James’ office, evidence which also triggered CNN’s suspension of anchor Chris Cuomo for his role in using journalistic assets to try and aid his brother.
In the secretly recorded call, Collins, as instructed, said the governor’s office was a tough place in which to work but had “never seen anything like sexual harassment.”
Kaitlin didn’t respond to the rhetorical statement.
Collins, at DeRosa’s suggestion, also lied to Kaitlin, saying reporters had reached out to her and others in Cuomo’s orbit about her tweets. That wasn’t the case, both DeRosa and Collins later admitted.
But Kaitlin seemed suspicious during the conversation with Collins, which she did not know was being recorded, because she discovered other Cuomo deputies were monitoring her LinkedIn page.
During her interview with the AG’s investigators, Kaitlin said she played “dumb” during her chat with Collins.
“But how would they find my account? Like I – nobody followed me. You know? I didn’t tag anybody,” Kaitlin told Collins, identified as “employee #6” in the transcripts.
Sources close to the investigation confirmed to The Post that Collins is employee #6.
Kaitlin told investigators that she smelled a rat, that Collins was spying for team Cuomo.
“Because she was part of that inner circle and I didn’t trust [staffer #6],” Kaitlin said.
Collins was MTA Comms director at the time and now is a VP of communications at Goldman Sachs. DeRosa admitted to installing Collins as MTA comms director when she asked Collins to spy on Kaitlin. She said Collins did not object.
Afterwards, Collins told investigators, she regretted secretly recording a former colleague for DeRosa
“It just seemed to me that recording a conversation with a former colleague was not something I should have done,” Collins said.
Colllins also said in a text exchange with DeRosa after the chat with Kaitlin, “Did you listen to it? Let’s just take it to the grave because I think it just proves we’re both crazy.”
The Post reported in March that Boylan accused Collins of calling other staffers or former staffers about her.
DeRosa said she was troubled by Kaitlin’s tweet in support of Boylan that said, “Keep talking, Lindsey. Men like him should not be in positions of power.”
“I tried to figure out if someone could call her and find out what was going on. I thought that there was a politically calculated movement afoot that was being driven by Biaggi and Boylan, and that Kaitlin was part of it,” she said.
She then patched in Alphonso David, Cuomo’s former legal counsel, who was then-executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, into a three-way conference call with Collins to prep her — just minutes before she called Kaitlin.
They agreed that Collins could secretly record the conversation.
James’ Cuomo probers pressed both DeRosa and Collins on whether the secret recording was legal. DeRosa said she got the OK from David.
“And I asked if she should record the call. And he said, ‘Yes. And assume she is recording it, too,’” she recalled him saying.
DeRosa said the issue of where Kaitin was physically located for the call didn’t come up.
Collins said, “My understanding was that Melissa and Alphonso had had that conversation and decided it was okay to tape record the conversation,” Collins said.
“My cell phone records show that she was in New York, and I also believed her to be in New York because she worked for a New York State agency.”
Collins declined further comment when contacted by The Post.
DeRosa, through her lawyer, had no immediate comment.
During his testimony, David’s lawyer, Si Aydiner, cited executive privilege and David did not say what advice he gave to De Ross and Collins about the secret recording other than to acknowledge he did speak to them.
The audio of the interview was shared afterward with Cuomo’s legal inner circle– David, Linda Lacewell, Judy Mogul and Steven Cohen, “to get their reaction,” DeRosa said.
Asked if he was aware that Collins and Kaitlin had a conversation, David testified, “I’m aware that they had a conversation and I think I understand the general nature of that conversation, yes.”