Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who accused him of sexual harassment earlier this year, said Tuesday that the three-term Democrat was normalizing “not only victim-blaming, but sexual harassment” in his response to state AG Letitia James’ bombshell report that found Cuomo harassed 11 women in violation of state and federal laws.
“He is saying that women come forward with their stories and we don’t need to take it seriously,” Bennett told “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell.”
“It’s simply a circus act at this point.”
Bennett, who worked as an executive assistant and health policy adviser, went public with her claims about Cuomo in The New York Times this past February. She claimed the governor had asked her inappropriate personal questions, said he was open to relationships with women in their 20s, and left her feeling that he “wanted to sleep with me.”
The James report details how Cuomo became fixated on Bennett’s experience as a sexual assault survivor. In May of last year, she texted a colleague following a conversation with Cuomo: “The way he was repeating ‘you were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and betrayed’ over and over again while looking me directly in the eyes was something out of a horror movie. It was like he was testing me.”
The following month, the report finds, the governor suggested to Bennett that she had trouble staying in monogamous relationships because she wanted “control” following her assault.
Cuomo singled out Bennett in his response to the report earlier Tuesday, saying that her allegations against him “bothered me most”.
“I thought I could help her work through a difficult time,” the governor said. “I did ask her [Bennett] questions I don’t normally ask people. I did ask her how she was doing and how she was feeling. And I did ask questions to try to see if she had positive, supportive dating relationships … I was trying to make sure she was working her way through it the best she could. I thought I had learned enough and had enough personal experience to help. But I was wrong.”
“He’s trying to justify himself by making me out to be someone who can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and mentorship,” responded Bennett, who added: “Publicly, he would rather play dumb. Privately, he knows that he sexually harassed staffers and I think it’s easier to explain his behavior publicly by saying there was some misunderstanding.”
Cuomo directly addressed Bennett in his remarks, saying he was “truly and deeply sorry” for what he said and did.
“I brought my personal experience into the workplace and I shouldn’t have done that. I was trying to help. Obviously, I didn’t,” he said. “I am even more sorry that I further complicated the situation. My goal was the exact opposite. I wish nothing but good for you, and for all survivors of sexual assault.”
Bennett emphatically rejected the governor’s apology Tuesday night.
“Accepting responsibility means stepping down, so I don’t believe him, and I don’t want an apology,” she said. “It’s not necessary. It’s fake, and his propaganda video was not only uncomfortable and inappropriate, but downright weird, and unnecessary.”
Bennett added that she felt “vindicated” by James’ report and warned Albany legislators that they “have a responsibility to act and impeach” the three-term governor if he does not resign.
“We have a report. We have the facts,” she said. “The governor broke federal and state law when he sexually harassed me, and current and former staffers … I am not confused. It is not confusing. I am living in reality and it’s sad to see that he’s not.”