After losing a tug-of-wills to control an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement in which he said he has never done anything wrong and is heartily sorry if anyone thinks he did. One critic labeled the statement “complete BS.”
On Saturday, The New York Times quoted former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett, 25, as saying Cuomo sexually harassed her by asking about her sex life and any romantic interests she might have in a relationship with an older man.
Cuomo responded to the furor caused by the report by saying that he would have a former federal judge who works at the same law firm as a Cuomo ally investigate the matter. That prompted an outburst from political figures on both sides of the aisle, as well as from Democratic Attorney General Letitia James, who said any investigation is within her jurisdiction.
James and Cuomo have crossed swords in the past after a report issued by James showed Cuomo hid the true numbers of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 after Cuomo ordered nursing homes to take in coronavirus patients.
As a counter-offer, the governor sought to have Janet DiFiore, the chief judge on the state’s top court, work with James to pick the person who would investigate the allegations, but James dug in her heels and said any probe was rightly her job.
Cuomo then issued a public statement that said, “Questions have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office. I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm. I spend most of my life at work and colleagues are often also personal friends.”
Cuomo then said perhaps he should not be so “playful.”
“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. 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,” Cuomo said in the statement on his website.
“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,” he said.
“To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to. That’s why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations,” Cuomo said.
Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior advisor to the governor, issued a statement making Cuomo’s capitulation on who would investigate him officially.
“The Governor’s office wants a thorough and independent review that is above reproach and beyond political interference. Therefore, the Governor’s office has asked Attorney General Tish James to select a qualified private lawyer to do an independent review of allegations of sexual harassment,” Garvey’s statement said.
Erica Vladimer, co-founder of the Sexual Harassment Working Group, called Cuomo’s comments “complete BS,” according to the New York Post.
“It’s Gaslighting 101,” Vladimer said.
“He’s trying to put the onus on the victim. He’s clearly trying not to take ownership for his actions. This is classic Cuomo in a compressed time period. People are finally recognizing what kind of powerful abuser he is,” he said.
There are two allegations against Cuomo. Former aide Lindsey Boylan, who months ago called working for Cuomo “toxic,” called Cuomo out last week in an essay on Medium in which she accused the governor of telling her wanted to play strip poker with her. Boylan also has said Cuomo tried to kiss her.
In an interview with the Times, Bennett said she spoke up to highlight how Cuomo “wields his power.”
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Bennett, according to the Times, said that during a June meeting with the governor he asked “questions about her personal life, including whether she was romantically involved, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and whether she had ever had sex with older men.”
Bennett told the Times that Cuomo told her that his former girlfriend, celebrity chef Sandra Lee, was “out of the picture,” and that Cuomo spoke of “wanting a girlfriend, preferably in the Albany area.”
“He asked me if I believed if age made a difference in relationships and he also asked me in the same conversation if I had ever been with an older man,” Bennett told The Times, noting that Cuomo told her “he’s fine with anyone above the age of 22.”
She said that point came up when they had spoken about her upcoming 25th birthday.
According to The Times, Bennett was asked if she thought Cuomo’s remarks were “an entreaty to a sexual relationship.”
“That’s absolutely how it felt,” she responded.
On Saturday, Cuomo issued a statement that said he was trying to be kind to Bennett, who had revealed to him that she was a sexual assault survivor.
“When she came to me and opened up about being a sexual assault survivor and how it shaped her and her ongoing efforts to create an organization that empowered her voice to help other survivors, I tried to be supportive and helpful. Ms. Bennett’s initial impression was right: I was trying to be a mentor to her. I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported,” Cuomo said in his statement.
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