Cuomo accuser details 'shocking' claims in TV interview with 'CBS Evening News'

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — A former aide, who has accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, sat down for her first television interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell.

Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant and senior briefer to Cuomo, first told the New York Times that the governor asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she ever had sex with older men.

On Thursday, O’Donnell told CBS2’s Mary Clavi that Bennett was “speaking out for the first time to share her story and hope that it brings about some change.”

Despite Gov. Cuomo saying he had never propositioned anyone, in the interview, Bennett said she believes Gov. Cuomo was, in fact, propositioning her for sex.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Cuomo was appearing on television daily and his updates on the coronavirus pandemic in the state of New York quickly became a must-see on TV.

Bennett says she believes that national attention emboldened him to begin making inappropriate comments towards her.

“I think he felt like he was untouchable in a lot of ways,” she told O’Donnell.

Bennett says she and the governor had a strictly professional relationship until May 15, 2020, when she alleges the governor started to ask about her love life and seemed to become fixated on the fact that she is a survivor of sexual assault.

“He goes, ‘you were raped, you were raped. You were raped and abused and assaulted,’” she said of the conversation with the governor.

Cuomo’s former aide tells O’Donnell that things escalated even further on June 5, when she was called into the governor’s office to take dictation and he told her to turn off the tape recorder.

“Then he explains at that point that he is looking for a girlfriend. He is lonely. He's tired,” Bennett said. “He asked if I had trouble enjoying being with someone because of my trauma… The governor asked me if I was sensitive to intimacy.”

Bennett, 25, went on to repeat her claim that Gov. Cuomo asked her if she was comfortable having sexual relations with older men, and notes that he told her he was comfortable being with women as young as 22.

O’Donnell goes on to ask Bennett what she was thinking during the conversation with Gov. Cuomo, to which she responded, “I thought, ‘He was 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.”

Bennett, a former health policy adviser for Cuomo’s administration, says she initially had hesitations about coming forward, because she responded honestly to Cuomo’s questions, despite feeling uncomfortable.

“When I was even thinking of coming forward, I think that was where I felt the most shame and that, like, I really was uncomfortable,” she said. “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.”

To the people who will ask her why she didn't leave the room, Bennett says: “It didn't feel like I had a choice.”

Bennett says she has seen Gov. Cuomo’s apology, in which he said he never knew he made people feel uncomfortable, and she doesn’t think it’s enough.

“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 has not apologized for sexually harassing me and he can't even use my name.”

O’Donnell notes that CBS News has reached out to the governor’s office for comment, but he has not responded.

Earlier Thursday, the “CBS Evening News” host told WCBS 880’s Lynda Lopez that Bennett’s story was “very powerful” and noted the “allegations that she makes against the governor are shocking.”

Another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, recently accused the governor of subjecting her to an unwanted kiss and inappropriate comments.

A third woman claims the governor made an unwanted advance during a wedding reception in 2019, placing his hand on her bare lower back, grabbing her face and asking if he could kiss her.

Gov. Cuomo on Wednesday, in his first public remarks since the allegations surfaced, said he was "embarrassed," but told reporters that he intends to stay in office, despite growing calls for his resignation.

"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. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it," Cuomo said. "I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience."

More of the interview will air Friday, March 5, on CBS THIS MORNING (7:00-9:00 AM, ET), on CBSN, CBS News’ free 24/7 streaming news service, beginning on CBSN AM at 7:00 AM, ET, and will be available on demand at CBSNews.com.