What to Know
- Two of the women who accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment spoke out Thursday; Charlotte Bennett said she didn't "feel like I had a choice" when Cuomo started questioning her love life; Lindsey Boylan said she wasn't seeking punishment, just for "the abuse to stop"
- Asked Thursday whether he believed this latest apology to be more sincere than the last, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said simply, "No, I don't think it changes anything"
- In Cuomo's first live coronavirus briefing Wednesday (with Q&A) in nearly two weeks, the governor pledged not to resign and asked New Yorkers to await the attorney general's final report on the allegations against him before rendering judgment on him
The former executive assistant and health policy adviser of Gov. Andrew Cuomo who has accused him of sexually harassment said the governor propositioned her with sex after repeated questions about her past sexual abuse.
In an interview with CBS Evening News that aired Thursday evening, Charlotte Bennett said Cuomo first started asking questions about her personal relationships on May 15, 2020.
"So he goes, 'You were raped, you were raped, you were raped and abused and assaulted,'" Bennett said.
The inappropriate behavior continued on June 5, she said, when she was dictating in his office when he told her to turn off the voice recorder. According to Bennett, the governor said that he was "looking for a girlfriend, he's lonely, he's tired." He also allegedly asked her if she "had trouble being with someone because of my trauma," Bennett said, before the implied proposition came.
"He asked me if age difference mattered. He also explained that he was fine with anyone over 22," the 25-year-old said. "I thought, he's trying to sleep with me. 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."
After the encounter, Bennett said she texted a friend, who asked her if Cuomo tried to do anything. Bennet said no, "but it was like the most explicit it could be."
Bennett said she believes the national attention Cuomo received during the early months of the pandemic emboldened him, saying she thought "he felt that he was untouchable in a lot of ways." She also said she answered the governor's questions honestly, which she said she felt ashamed of as she weighed coming forward.
"I feel like people put the onus on the woman to shut that conversation down, and by answering I was somehow engaging in that, or enabling it. When in fact, I was just terrified," Bennett said. "(I) didn't feel like I had a choice ... He's my boss, he's everyone's boss."
She does not believe that she misinterpreted anything the governor allegedly said to her, saying she "understood him loud and clear. It just didn't go the way he planned." Bennett said she watched the governor's press conference on Wednesday, but said what he did was not an apology.
"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 not apologized for sexually harassing me. And he can't even use my name."
Earlier in the day, Bennett's attorney Debra Katz told CBS This Morning that what the claims against Cuomo amount to are "more significant than the governor is embarrassed. It's sexual harassment and he needs to acknowledge that."
When asked for comment on Bennett's interview, Cuomo's spokesperson referred to the governor's comments from Wednesday's press conference.
Lindsey Boylan also addressed her allegations against the governor in an interview with Harper's Bazaar that was released Thursday. In it she described the toxic work environment in the governor's administration, and explained why she decided to speak out.
"A young woman reached out to me after I went public about the toxic work environment in Cuomo’s administration to talk about sexual harassment. I hadn't mentioned my experience publicly yet, but her experience was similar to my own," Boylan said. "It really broke my heart, because she's younger than I am and I couldn't protect her."
She said it was after seeing Cuomo's name floated for possible U.S. Attorney General that she began to tweet about her experience. Then people she hadn't heard from in years started to reach out to her, which is when she felt a "real sense of purpose to change things."
When asked what she thought of the governor's response to the women's claims, Boylan said that's not really what she was focused on.
"I just want the abuse to stop. I'm really not focused on punishment. I'm focused on accountability," she said. "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 told the magazine that she has been in touch with Bennett but not with third accuser Anna Ruch, adding that Ruch’s story made her feel “nauseous.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio lit into Cuomo once again Thursday when he was prodded to comment on the governor's latest public apology, his pledge not to resign over sexual harassment allegations and the not-so-subtle jabs he threw at New York City while trying to navigate a path through his dueling controversies.
"He's got three women who have brought forward allegations of inappropriate activity and sexual harassment. He has a nursing home scandal and a cover-up related to that scandal," de Blasio said. "He is trying to distract attention away from that."
Cuomo's long-awaited foray back into the media spotlight came Wednesday when he resumed his COVID briefing schedule and addressed the harassment claims. Pressed further on his stated refusal to resign, the governor said he had much work left to do, and included saving New York City from a "precarious situation" -- one where "crime is way up, homelessness is way up, many people have left."
Without mentioning de Blasio by name, Cuomo appeared to lay some blame at the mayor's feet, describing a need to "get New York City functional again and safe again and viable again" while referencing the looming end of de Blasio's term.
New York City's mayor Thursday said he found the comments disrespectful to the people of the five boroughs, even going as far as saying the dig is "what Donald Trump would've done," though he said he didn't take the barbs personally.
"This city has been heroic, the people of this city have been heroic. You would think any governor would support that and celebrate that, not denigrate it. Clearly, he's trying to distract attention from his own problems," de Blasio said. "People are smarter than that. They understand that everyone in this city is moving heaven and Earth to come back strong. He should address his own problems, not try to put down the people of New York City."
Some of those people of New York City let their voices be heard Thursday afternoon, as a group of protesters once again gathered outside the governor's office in midtown. For the second time in a week, protesters let the governor know they did not think his apology was enough.
Asked if he thought the governor's latest apology, his second to the public in four days but his first on camera before a live audience, was more sincere, de Blasio offered a simple seven-word response: "No, I don't think it changes anything."
Cuomo is certainly hoping the mayor is wrong on that count. In his Wednesday plea, the governor asked New Yorkers to wait for the state attorney general's report on the harassment allegations against him before casting judgment. He once again vowed to cooperate with that inquiry and said he "fully supports a woman's right to come forward."
"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," a contrite Cuomo, wearing a blue tie, said. "I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it."
Twice, he said, "I never touched anyone inappropriately." Twice, he said, "I never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable."
"I certainly never ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do. I've learned an important lesson. I'm sorry, I'm sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience," Cuomo said, then opened up Q&A.
He was first asked to comment on a photo associated with allegations from his third accuser, in which that accuser, Anna Ruch, who spoke to The New York Times in a report published Monday, appears to look uncomfortable as the governor holds her face in his hands. Ruch told the Times Cuomo moved his hands to her cheeks when she removed one of his hands from her back.
She alleged he then asked if he could kiss her -- and says he planted a kiss on her cheek as she turned away. To that, Cuomo said he understood the "opinion and feelings of Ms. Ruch -- and you are right, you can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people -- women, men, children."
"You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. It is my usual and customary way of greeting. It was my father's way of greeting people -- you're the governor of the state, you want people to feel comfortable, you reach out to them," Cuomo said, referring to his late father and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. "I also understand it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter my intent. What matters is if anybody was offended by it. If they were offended by it, it was wrong."
Cuomo later repeated a variation of his latest apology, reiterating his lack of intent in causing any harm, when asked "what assurances" he could provide there were no other accusers who would lodge similar complaints. He didn't answer the question directly, but vowed to apologize "today, tomorrow and the day after."
Cuomo didn’t answer directly when asked by a reporter if he could assure the public that there were no other former aides who would come forward. However, the governor did vow that he would change his actions.
"I understand that sensitivities have changed, and behavior has changed, and I get it. And I'm going to learn from it," he said.
Cuomo's accusers disintegrated the apology, describing his speech as riddled with "falsehoods" and the governor as a man so untrustworthy as to be unfit for office. Other critics say the apology fell short. Some are waiting for the next shoe to drop. A number of longtime Cuomo supporters are skirting around the apology itself and saying only they support the attorney general's independent probe.
The apology came a day after state legislators reached a deal to strip Cuomo of his pandemic emergency powers. That repeal could take effect as early as Friday. Cuomo acknowledged the deal almost as a matter of course -- with one of his famed slides -- 20 minutes into the briefing, but didn't discuss it further.
The list of Democrats calling for Cuomo's immediate resignation ballooned earlier this week, but few key names were added to the count after his latest statement.
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told CNN after Cuomo's apology that she found that itself to be "important" but that he should resign if the investigation finds evidence of wrongdoing.
A new poll also provided a mix of good news and bad news for the embattled governor. The Quinnipiac poll showed that nearly two thirds of voters don't want Cuomo to seek another term, but on the flipside, by a margin of 55-40 they say he should not resign.
Most leading Democrats have signaled they also want to wait for the results of an investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James into claims that Cuomo sexually harassed at least two women in his administration.
That inquiry — which Cuomo called a "review" — has yet to begin. James said her office is working to hire an outside law firm to conduct it. The state senate oversight committee said Wednesday the probe will likely take about two months.