Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who has accused him of sexual harassment, said in a new interview that there is no doubt Cuomo had one thing on his mind during private conversations that took place in May and June last year in Cuomo’s office.
“Gov. Cuomo said that he has never propositioned anybody. Do you believe that he was propositioning you?” CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell asked Bennett in a CBS exclusive interview.
“Yes,” Bennett replied simply.
“For what?” O’Donnell asked the former aide.
Bennett’s allegations triggered an investigation by the state attorney general’s office and preceded additional allegations from Anna Ruch, a woman who said she was subjected to unwelcome touching and uncomfortable conversation when she met Cuomo at a wedding reception in 2019.
Cuomo has denied any misconduct.
“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny,” Cuomo said in a statement on his website.
“I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
During her CBS interview, O’Donnell asked Bennett if the former aide thought all of the national attention Cuomo was receiving at the time might have “emboldened him.”
“Absolutely,” Bennett replied. “I think he felt like he was untouchable in a lot of ways.”
The interview touched on a May 15 conversation that Bennett has described as a turning point in her relationship with Cuomo, when the governor inquired about Bennett’s love life and her experience as a sexual abuse survivor.
“So he goes, ‘You were raped. You were raped. You were raped, and abused, and assaulted,'” the former aide said.
Then on June 5, Bennett said, she was called into Cuomo’s office and was told to turn off the tape recorder.
“He explains at that point that he is looking for a girlfriend. He’s lonely, he’s tired,” she said.
Bennett told O’Donnell she was then was quizzed about her relationships.
“He asked if I had trouble enjoying being with someone because of my trauma,” she said.
“The governor asked me if I was sensitive to intimacy,” she said, noting that the conversation took place in Cuomo’s office during the workday.
In an additional article released by CBS, Bennett is quoted as saying, “He asked if it made it hard to really be with someone physically.”
“He asked me if age difference mattered,” Bennett, 25, said of Cuomo, 63. “He also explained that he was fine with anyone over 22.”
“What were you thinking as he’s asking you these questions?” O’Donnell asked.
“I thought, ‘He’s trying to sleep with me,'” Bennett said. “‘The governor is trying to sleep with me. And I’m deeply uncomfortable and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.'”
“To be clear: What made you think that he was trying to sleep with you?” O’Donnell asked.
“Without explicitly saying it, he implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely,” Bennett said.
O’Donnell asked how the former aide responded to Cuomo’s questions.
“I responded honestly,” she replied, pausing before continuing. “And, when I was even thinking of coming forward, I think that was where I felt the most shame. In that, I really was uncomfortable.”
Asked by O’Donnell why she felt shame, Bennett said, “I feel like people put the onus on the woman to shut that conversation down, and by answering I was somehow engaging in that, or enabling it, when in fact I was just terrified.”
Asked why she did not simply leave, Bennett replied, “It didn’t feel like I had a choice.”
“He’s my boss; he’s everyone’s boss.”
In response to a comment from the governor that he might have been misinterpreted, Bennett said that’s not so.
“I understood him loud and clear. It just didn’t go the way he planned,” she said.
Bennett said she watched Cuomo when he offered a recorded statement in response to the sexual harassment allegations and said, “It’s not an apology. It’s not an issue of my feelings. It’s an issue of his actions.”
“The fact is that he was sexually harassing me and he has not apologized for sexually harassing me. And he can’t even use my name.”
More of Bennett’s interview will air on CBS on Friday.
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