The second lady to go public with sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, says she thought the governor was trying to sleep with her and she was deeply uncomfortable with questions he asked.
“I thought, he’s trying to sleep with me!!! Charlotte 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,” Bennett told “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell in an interview.
Bennett was asked what made her think Cuomo was trying to sleep with her.
“Without explicitly saying it, he implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the governor told her he was looking for a girlfriend and also asked if she was sensitive to intimacy. She said she was in Cuomo’s office last June taking dictation when he made the remarks.
“And then he explains, at that point, that he is looking for a girlfriend. He’s lonely, he’s tired,” Bennett said.
“He asked if I had trouble enjoying being with someone because of my trauma,” Bennett added, explaining that she had previously told the governor that she had a history of sexual assault.
Bennett also said Cuomo asked her if age difference mattered in a relationship, saying that he had said “he was fine with anyone over 22.”
Bennett, a 25-year-old former executive assistant and health policy adviser to Cuomo, first told her story to the New York Times last week. Bennett told the Times that the governor had asked her a series of personal questions, including stating that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.
She told the Times that she interpreted the exchange — which she said took place in June, while the state was in the throes of fighting the pandemic — as what the newspaper called “clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”
Bennett said she felt ashamed when thinking about coming forward with her claims. “I feel like people put the onus on the woman to shut that conversation down,” Bennett said. “And by answering, I was somehow engaging in that or enabling it, when in fact I was just terrified.”
In his initial response to Bennett’s story in the Times last week, Cuomo said he believed he had been acting as a mentor and had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
Cuomo issued a more direct apology in a press briefing on Wednesday, his first since the harassment allegations were made public.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say but that’s the truth,” Cuomo said.
In a statement released after Cuomo’s apology on Wednesday in which he did not mention Bennett by name, Debra Katz, an attorney for Bennett, said the news conference was “full of falsehoods and inaccurate information” and rejected Cuomo’s claim that he didn’t know he was making anyone uncomfortable.
“My client, Charlotte Bennett, reported his sexually harassing behavior immediately to his Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel. We are confident that they made him aware of her complaint and we fully expect that the Attorney General’s investigation will demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on Ms. Bennett’s serious allegations or to ensure that corrective measures were taken, in violation of their legal requirements,” Katz said.
Bennett said she watched Cuomo’s televised briefing.
“It’s not an apology. It’s not an issue of my feelings. It’s an issue of his actions,” she said. “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.”
CBS is scheduled to air another portion of Bennett’s interview Friday on “CBS This Morning.”
Bennett was the second woman to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo. Lindsey Boylan, a former aide to the governor, alleged that in 2018 Cuomo kissed her on the lips following a one-on-one briefing in his New York City office.
Boylan told Harper’s Bazaar in an interview published earlier Thursday, “I just want the abuse to stop. I’m really not focused on punishment. I’m focused on accountability. And I think we’re seeing somewhat the way the governor (and his administration) operates, the way that they are, and it’s being seen in real time.”
“And I think that’s really unfortunate, but probably necessary,” she said.
Another woman, Anna Ruch, told the Times — in an account that was corroborated to CNN by a friend — that Cuomo made an unwanted advance toward her during a crowded wedding reception in New York City in 2019.
Still, in his news conference Wednesday, Cuomo flatly rejected calls for his resignation and pleaded with New Yorkers to wait for the state attorney general to issue a report on the matter before forming an opinion on his alleged transgressions.
The pending inquiry, though, could take months to complete, and Cuomo seized the news conference spotlight in an effort to push back against calls for him to immediately step down.
“I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable,” he said.