Andrew Cuomo asked a 25-year-old advisor whether she had trouble being intimate with men as a survivor of sexual assault and quizzed her on whether she had sex with older men, according to one of the three women who accused him of sexual assault.
Charlotte Bennett, 25, spoke out on Thursday night in her first televised interview.
She said the powerful three-term governor, who was giving daily televised briefings in the midst of the pandemic and was receiving a rapturous reception, ‘felt like he was untouchable in a lot of ways’ when he ‘propositioned’ her.
Bennett worked as a health policy adviser in the New York governor’s administration, hired in the spring of 2019 and swiftly promoted to senior briefer and executive assistant only a few months later. Bennett had a friendly relationship with Cuomo due to their mutual ties to Westchester County, and saw him as a mentor.
Charlotte Bennett, 25, spoke to CBS’s Norah O’Donnell on Thursday evening
Charlotte Bennett told us she felt “shame” after Gov. Cuomo asked her sexually explicit questions.
“I feel like people put the onus on the woman to shut that conversation down. And by answering, I was somehow engaging in that…when in fact, I was just terrified,” Bennett said. pic.twitter.com/LEtgUYwMB3
— Norah O’Donnell (@NorahODonnell) March 4, 2021
She claimed that, in the spring of 2020, when she moved to Albany, he began quizzing her on her sex life and whether she dated older men.
She told Norah O’Donnell that the first awkward conversation was on May 15.
She revealed that she had been raped, and Cuomo seemed fascinated by her story.
Charlotte Bennett spoke out on Thursday
On June 5, she was asked to take a dictation and at the end he asked her to turn off the tape.
‘He asked if I had trouble enjoying being with someone, because of my drama,’ she said.
‘The governor asked if I was sensitive to intimacy.’
Bennett claimed Cuomo, 63, told her he would consider dating ‘anyone above the age of 22’.
She felt it was clear the he was propositioning her.
‘I thought he’s trying to sleep with me.
‘The governor’s trying to sleep with me. And I’m deeply uncomfortable and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.’
Bennett opened up about the allegations against Cuomo in her first TV interview on Thursday
Asked by O’Donnell why she thought that, Bennett replied: ‘Without explicitly saying it, he implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely.’
Bennett texted her friend, detailing the encounter.
She told her friend: ‘It was like the most explicit it could be.’
Asked by O’Donnell how she responded to Cuomo’s deeply personal questions, in his office during a working day, she replied: ‘I responded honestly.’
Bennett is one of three women who have now accused the governor of sexual harassment
The pair initially had a good relationship, with shared connections to Westchester County
Bennett and Cuomo’s relationship took a turn in May when he began asking intimate questions
Bennett, becoming emotional, said that, on reflection, her answering his questions left the most pain.
‘And when I was thinking of coming forward, that’s where I held the most shame,’ she said. ‘That was where I was most uncomfortable.
‘I think people put the onus on women to shut the conversation down, yet by answering, I was somehow engaging in that, or enabling it, when in fact, I was just terrified.’
Asked why she didn’t walk away, she replied: ‘It didn’t feel like I had a choice. He was my boss. He was everyone’s boss.’
O’Donnell asked whether she could have misunderstood Cuomo, Bennett said: ‘I understood him loud and clear. It just didn’t go the way he had planned.’
When Bennett first made her allegations, in The New York Times, she told a similar story.
‘I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,’ Bennett told the paper.
‘And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.’
Bennett said Cuomo also told her he wanted a girlfriend, ‘preferably in the Albany area,’ and he was lonely since breaking up with Sandra Lee, a chef and TV personality.
She also said she tried to change the subject when Cuomo’s comments were making her uncomfortable, telling him she was thinking of getting a tattoo.
Bennett said Cuomo responded by suggesting she put the tattoo on her buttocks.
Bennett, pictured at work, told Cuomo’s team about her incidents with him
Protesters staged an ‘I Believe Women’ rally outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office on Thursday
A protester in a Donald Trump mask lies on the sidewalk outside Cuomo’s office on Thursday
Bennett said she informed Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, about the interaction less than a week later. She said she was transferred to another job on the opposite side of the Capitol. At the end of June she also gave a statement to a special counsel for Cuomo.
Cuomo’s special counsel, Beth Garvey, has acknowledged that the complaint had been made and that Bennett was transferred as a result to a position in which she had already been interested.
Garvey said in a statement that Bennett’s allegations ‘did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct’ and Bennett ‘was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled.’
‘The determination reached based on the information Ms Bennett provided was that no further action was required which was consistent with Ms Bennett’s wishes,’ Garvey said.
Bennett said she decided not to push for any further action by the administration. She said she liked her new job and ‘wanted to move on.’
Bennett spoke out several days after Lindsey Boylan, now 36, accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. A third woman, Anna Ruch, 33, came forward on Monday.
Anna Ruch, 33, (left) claimed Cuomo behaved inappropriately at a Manhattan wedding in September 2019. Lindsey Boylan, 36, (right) claims Cuomo commented on her appearance inappropriately, kissed her without her consent and went out of his way to touch her on her lower back, arms and legs
Boylan opened about her sexual harassment claims against Cuomo in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar published on Thursday.
She revealed she came forward after the Democratic governor’s name started being floated as a potential nominee for a cabinet position in Biden’s administration.
‘I woke up the next day, and the governor was being floated for attorney general, the highest law enforcement position in the U.S.,’ Boylan said. ‘And I didn’t think about it at all… I began tweeting about my experience.’
‘After I initially came forward, it felt like I had intentionally blown up my own body into pieces all over the world, and people were looking at them. It almost felt like I had done this to myself. I had made that choice.’
Boylan claims Cuomo commented on her appearance inappropriately, kissed her without her consent and went out of his way to touch her on her lower back, arms and legs.
She also alleges that he once suggested a game of strip poker aboard his state-owned jet.
Meanwhile, a third woman – Anna Ruch – told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan.
Boylan said in her magazine interview that she has been in touch with Bennett but not Ruch, adding that Ruch’s story made her feel ‘nauseous’.
Cuomo on Wednesday rejected calls for his resignation in the face of harassment allegations
Anna Ruch told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan
Boylan, who worked for Cuomo’s team from March 2015 to October 2018, first tweeted about an abusive workplace environment in the administration in December.
She elaborated on her accusations in a February 24 Medium post in which she said Cuomo once suggested a game of strip poker and on another occasion kissed her without her consent.
Ex and current Cuomo staffers say they’re ‘waking up to the fact they were in a cult’
Nearly a dozen former and current staffers have detailed to Gothamist/WNYC the working culture inside Gov Cuomo’s office after he was accused of sexual harassment.
Some of the staffers say they weren’t surprised by the allegations given what they claim is a bullying environment and intense work culture inside Cuomo’s office.
Former staffers have described working there as having ‘Stockholm syndrome’, while others said they’re ‘kind of waking up to the fact that we were in a cult’.
Some said Cuomo was a ‘micromanager to the 100th degree’ and had a tough management style.
One staffer who had a fellowship when she was in her 20s in 2013 described how she was quickly set up near Cuomo’s office, with staffers later telling her the governor liked blondes.
She was also told to wear stilettos when in the Albany office.
Some staffers, however, refuted the toxic workplace notions.
‘I think everyone there wants to do the best work they can. Sometimes that work-life balance is sacrificed. I was definitely burned out by the end of my time there. I didn’t take it personally,’ the staffer said.
Cuomo has previously denied Boylan’s allegations.
‘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,’ Boylan said.
Cuomo on Wednesday rejected calls for his resignation in the face of the harassment allegations.
He apologized and said that he had ‘learned an important lesson’ about his behavior around women.
Cuomo initially said he was apologizing to ‘people’ who were uncomfortable with his conduct. At one point, he said he was apologizing to ‘the young woman who worked here who said that I made her feel uncomfortable in the workplace’.
‘I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,’ Cuomo said. ‘It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it.
‘I’m embarrassed by what happened… I’m embarrassed that someone felt that way in my administration. I’m embarrassed and hurt and I apologize that somebody who interacted with me felt that way.’
Asked about calls for him to step aside, the third-term governor said: ‘I wasn’t elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I´m not going to resign.’
Cuomo acknowledged ‘sensitivities have changed and behavior has changed’ and that what he considers his ‘customary greeting’ – an old-world approach that often involves kisses and hugs – is not acceptable.
Cuomo said he inherited his gregarious way of greeting people from his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and that he intended to be welcoming and make people feel comfortable.
He said he will ‘fully cooperate’ with an investigation into the allegations overseen by the state’s independently elected attorney general. Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, is selecting an outside law firm to conduct the probe and document its findings in a public report.
Bennett’s lawyer, Debra Katz, said the governor’s news conference ‘was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information.’
She said Cuomo’s claim that he was unaware he had made women uncomfortable was disingenuous, considering that Bennett had reported his behavior to her boss and one of Cuomo’s lawyers.
‘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.
The harassment allegations represent a deepening crisis for Cuomo, who just months ago was at the height of his popularity for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent weeks, he has been assailed over revelations that his administration had underreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.