Charlotte Bennett, one of two former New York state employees who have accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, said on Thursday that the governor’s national profile during the pandemic emboldened him in his actions.
“I think he felt like he was untouchable in a lot of ways,” Bennett, 25, said in an interview with CBS’ Norah O’Donnell.
Cuomo, 63, was widely praised for his Covid response during the earlier parts of the pandemic. However, in recent weeks, the governor has found himself embroiled in a pair of scandals over the harassment allegations and claims that he hid the number of deaths of his state’s nursing home residents.
Bennett said in the interview that she believed the governor propositioned her for sex, describing an encounter with the governor that she said left her “deeply uncomfortable.”
“I thought he’s trying to sleep with me,” she said. “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 said that on June 5 she was asked to take dictation in Cuomo’s office. After she finished, she said, he told her to turn off the tape recorder, telling her that he was lonely, tired and looking for a girlfriend.
Bennett said Cuomo asked whether she “had trouble enjoying being with someone because of my trauma” and “if I was sensitive to intimacy,” referring to a conversation in mid-May during which the governor became fixated on her history as a sexual assault survivor.
“You were raped. You were raped. You were raped and abused and assaulted,” Bennett said Cuomo told her at the time.
Cuomo then asked whether Bennett was OK with an age difference, making it clear that “he was fine with anyone over 22,” she said about the June conversation.
Bennett also shared details about text messages she sent to a friend immediately after that encounter.
“Wait what…did he do something?” Bennett’s friend asked.
“No but it was like the most explicit it could be,” she wrote back.
The New York Times was the first to report on Bennett’s harassment allegations and the texts.
Another former state employee, Lindsey Boylan, first detailed allegations in a Medium post of an unwanted kiss from Cuomo. A third woman, who was not employed by the state, told The Times that Cuomo asked to kiss her at a wedding where the two of them met for the first time.
On Wednesday, Cuomo addressed the allegations for the first time in a news conference, where he apologized but said he would not resign.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately,” he said. “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable. …And I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain.”
The governor’s office on Monday directed state Attorney General Letitia James to move forward with an independent investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment.
A Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday found that a majority of New Yorkers do not want the governor to resign, but that they also do not want him to run for another term.
Bennett said she watched his remarks, but said it was 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.”
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, or you know someone who is, help is available. In the U.S., call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.