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Cuomo harassment accuser: Officials downplayed my complaint

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during an interview on CBS Evening News with Norah O'Donnell. Credit: Adam Verdugo/CBS News

In the final part of her first national television interview, former aide Charlotte Bennett said she brought her complaints of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's harassment to his chief of staff and chief counsel who downplayed the matter and said it didn't need to be investigated.

Bennett's lawyer said that advice was legally wrong, contending the administration didn't follow procedures Cuomo himself implemented.

"At first, they apologized. They said it was inappropriate," Bennett told "CBS Evening News" about her accounts of Cuomo telling her he was lonely and asking if the 25-year-old thought age made a difference in relationships.

Bennett said officials got her another job away from Cuomo and she told them to "please drop this" because she was "scared." She said they replied, "'You came to us before anything serious happened. It was just grooming and it was not yet considered sexual harassment. So, for that, we do not need to investigate.'"

Cuomo officials earlier this week said they handled the situation appropriately and according to guidelines.

Earlier, CBS aired another segment during its Friday morning news show in which Bennett called Cuomo a "textbook abuser" who "lets his temper and anger rule the office."

Bennett's allegations have sparked an attorney general's investigation of the third-term governor. Bennett said if the investigation backs up her claims Cuomo "should step down" as governor.

The governor has denied acting inappropriately, issued an apology, refused to step down and asked New Yorkers to await the pending investigation before forming an opinion.

The CBS interview was the latest development in a series of issues creating turmoil for Cuomo. On Friday:

  • Administration officials admitted they withheld data on deaths of nursing home residents in hospitals last summer in its report to the public and State Legislature. They defended the action by saying the data wasn’t yet confirmed as accurate. The federal government launched an investigation last month.
  • Attorney General Letitia James' office announced it issued a legal order to the administration to preserve all documents related to the allegations leveled by Bennett and Lindsay Boyland, another ex-aide who claimed Cuomo kissed her without consent. A third woman, who didn't work for Cuomo, said he touched her bare back, cupped her face and tried to kiss her at a wedding.
  • The State Legislature gave final passage Friday night to a bill to curtail Cuomo's extraordinary pandemic powers, including ending his ability to issue new directives. He would retain the ability to amend existing orders, such as limiting restaurant capacity.
  • Top Democrats said the investigation posed problems for Cuomo's political future. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) told Spectrum News about the harassment complaints: "Any further people coming forward, I would think it would be time for him to resign." New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "if the facts continue in this pattern, I don’t see how he goes on."

Debra Katz, Bennett's attorney, said the governor's office apparently didn't follow its own procedures upon receiving a harassment case — as Newsday and other outlets have reported.

"When (Bennett) said, 'I am terrified. I don't want you to investigate,' what they should've said is, 'We have a legal duty to investigate,' " Katz told CBS.

Bennett also claimed that Cuomo's secretary took the mandatory sex harassment training class for him — which the administration told CBS it "categorically" denied.

In part two of her interview, Bennett said she was "terrified" of working alone with the governor.

"He is a textbook abuser," Bennett said. "He lets his temper and anger rule the office. But he was very nice to me for a year in the hopes that one day when he came on to me, I would think we were friends or that it was appropriate or that it was OK."

Under heavy pressure, Cuomo has sought to push back on the harassment allegations.

He has said he "never made advances" to Bennett, that he tried to act as a mentor and that his behavior could have been misinterpreted as "unwanted flirtation." Cuomo aides have called "simply false" Boylan's allegations that the governor gave her an unwanted kiss.

The governor on Wednesday appeared publicly for the first time, apologizing and saying he was embarrassed by his actions. But he also said he wouldn't resign.

"I'm not going to resign," Cuomo said. "I work for the people of the State of New York. They elected me and I'm going to serve."

Cuomo has said he was "truly sorry" for his behavior.

"I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable," Cuomo said Wednesday in his first remarks about the complaint. "It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it and frankly, I’m embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say."

In the first part of her interview aired Thursday, Bennett said she felt "deeply uncomfortable" in a one-on-one situation last year with the governor, who is 63. She said she was working alone with the governor one day in June, taking dictation, when he told her to turn off the recorder and told her he was lonely and looking for a girlfriend. She said she felt uncomfortable and thought "I had to get out of this room as soon as possible."

Also Friday, the administration confirmed another aide's departure, health data analyst Erin Hammond, although officials said it had been planned before this week. Published reports said press officer Caitlin Girouard was leaving, but officials said that had been planned since January.

With Matthew Chayes and Michael Gormley

State & Region