One of the women at the center of America’s growing sexual harassment scandal has hit back at the man who allegedly victimized her.
One of the women who alleges she was sexually harassed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has dismissed his denial as “propaganda” and demanded his removal from office.
Yesterday the state’s Attorney-General, Letitia James, released a comprehensive report detailing Mr. Cuomo’s conduct. Investigators concluded the powerful Democrat was guilty of harassing multiple women and violating both state and federal laws. They identified eleven alleged victims, Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to the Governor.
According to the report, Mr. Cuomo made a series of inappropriate comments to Ms. Bennett while working for him last year.
Among other alleged incidents, Mr. Cuomo told Ms. Bennett he would be willing to date someone as young as 22, knowing she was in her mid-twenties at the time. He asked her whether she had ever been with older men and whether she was monogamous. He also informed her he was “lonely” due to the covid pandemic and “wanted to be touched”.
Investigators found evidence to support Ms. Bennett’s account of these conversations, including contemporaneous text messages she exchanged with others. In addition, Mr. Cuomo’s remarks made her “so uncomfortable” that she reported them to his chief of staff.
The Governor’s office responded by shifting her into a different job where she would not interact with him but took no other formal action.
However, his senior staff implemented “a practice whereby individual staff members who were women were not to be left alone with the Governor”.
Reacting to the report yesterday, Mr. Cuomo issued a blanket denial that he’d harassed anyone. “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” he insisted. “I am 63 years old. I lived my entire life in public view. That’s just now who I am. And that is not who I have ever been.”
Mr. Cuomo blamed some of his alleged conduct on “generational or cultural perspectives” that he “hadn’t fully appreciated”. “I accept responsibility,” he said.
But he also pushed back directly on several of the specific claims against him, including those of Ms. Bennett. He said her complaint was the one that “bothered me most”.
“She identified herself to me as a survivor of sexual assault. She said that she came to work in my administration because of all the progress we had made in fighting sexual assault. She talked about the personal trauma that she endured,” Mr. Cuomo said.
“I could see how it had affected her. I could see her pain. People now ask me why was I even talking to this young woman if I knew she was dealing with such issues? Why did I even engage with her?
“That is the obvious and fair question and one I have thought about a lot. The truth is that her story resonated deeply with me.” He claimed he “thought I could help her work through a difficult time”.
“I did ask her questions I don’t normally ask people. I did ask 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,” said Mr. Cuomo.
“I have heard Charlotte and her lawyer, and I understand what they are saying, but they read into comments that I made and draw inferences that I never meant. They ascribe motives I never had. And put simply, they heard things that I just didn’t say.
“Charlotte, I want you to know that I am truly and deeply sorry. I brought my personal experience into the workplace, and I shouldn’t have done that. I was trying to help.”
So that’s his position. Needless to say, Ms. Bennett has a very different interpretation of the Governor’s behavior.
A few hours after Mr. Cuomo issued his denial, she appeared on CBS Evening News. Host Norah O’Donnell asked whether she felt he was “gaslighting” her. “Absolutely,” Ms. Bennett said.
“He’s trying to justify himself by making me out to be someone who can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and mentorship. “He sexually harassed me. I am not confused. It is not confusing. I am living in reality, and it’s sad to see that he’s not.
“We have the report; we have the facts. The Governor broke federal and state law when he sexually harassed me and current and former staffers. And if he’s not willing to step down, we have a responsibility to act and impeach him.”
Mr. Cuomo appears to have no intention of resigning, despite pressure from both sides of politics. Senior figures in his own party, including President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both sitting US senators from New York, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have told him to step down.
Should he refuse to leave willingly, the Democrat-controlled state assembly has the power to impeach him and remove him from office. That is precisely what Ms. Bennett wants.
“Accepting responsibility means stepping down. And not only is he not stepping down, but he outright denies the things that he did,” she said.
“If he cared about New York, he would step down because, at this point, it’s an embarrassment to all of us. He’s embarrassing. “If the Governor is not willing to hold himself accountable to the facts, then we have a responsibility to call on the assembly to start impeachment,” O’Donnell asked whether Ms. Bennett had listened to the Governor’s statement. “I did listen,” she said.
“I think he still thinks that victim-blaming is an effective means to negate the facts. But I think it’s more embarrassing for him than it is actually effective.”
She rejected Mr. Cuomo’s claim that his motive was to “help” her overcome her trauma. “No. His intention was to try to sleep with me. He was trying to sleep with me,” Ms. Bennett said. “It’s actually interesting because his own senior aides took contemporaneous notes that backed up my allegations. “His statement today was, first of all, propaganda, and it’s irrelevant.”
Mr. Cuomo took some additional heat from Mr de Blasio last night. The New York City Mayor said his colleague was “past the point of no return” and “has to go”.
“This is textbook sexual harassment, and then, unfortunately, making it worse, in some cases even sexual assault. Disgusting and troubling and unacceptable, and he needs to leave office immediately,” he said. “His statement was laughable … he should resign. And if he won’t resign, he should be impeached as quickly as possible. “This guy is past the point of no return. He can’t move, and he just has to go.”