Allegations have arisen that Governor Cuomo has sexually assaulted another former aide.
When they were alone in his office, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly asked the woman, 25, if she had ever been with an older man.
A second woman, a former Cuomo aide, has accused him of sexual harassment, alleging that he asked her personal questions about her sex life, such as whether she was monogamous, and whether she had ever had sex with older men.
Aide Charlotte Bennett, who was a gubernatorial executive assistant and health policy advisor before she resigned in November, told The New York Times that Cuomo threatened her in the spring of 2017, when the state was fighting the coronavirus.
Ms. Bennett, age 25, confirmed that the most unnerving occurrence happened on June 5, when she was alone in the State Capitol with Governor Cuomo. This week, she has been quoted saying that the governor had asked her multiple personal questions, including whether she believed age had an effect on the growth of intimate relationships, and had said that he was open to dating women in their 20s — remarks that she claims were indicators of an intention to establish a sexual relationship.
According to Cuomo, he had assumed he was behaving as a tutor when he met with Bennett, and he "never wanted to make moves on her, nor did I ever plan to behave in any manner that was unacceptable." He told New Yorkers that he had ordered an independent analysis of the matter and demanded that they wait for the results before drawing any conclusions.
Ms. Bennett said that in June, the governor, who was 63 at the time, brought up his depression and lamented that he “can't even hug anyone,” before changing the topic to Ms. Bennett. She reported that Mr. Cuomo asked her, “Who was the last person I hugged?”
Ms. Bennett replied by saying that she wanted to avoid answering the question by saying that she missed hugging her friends. She responded, “‘I said like, hugged someone very tight,'” he said.
According to Ms. Bennett, Mr. Cuomo never wanted to contact her, but the message of the whole episode was very apparent to her.
“When the governor asked me to spend the night, I knew that he wished to have sex with me, and I was petrified and uncomfortable,” Bennett said. Additionally, I was worried about how I was going to pull myself out of it, and thought it was the end of my career.
Ms. Bennett confirmed the contact with Mr. Cuomo to his chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, about one week later, and she was then moved to a new role, serving as a health policy advisor with an office on the other side of the Capitol. Ms. Bennett stated that she had already given a lengthy statement to the governor's special counsel, Judith Mogul, in the middle of June.
Ms. Bennett said she opted against insisting on an investigation because she was content with her new job and no longer wanted to worry about the subject. Nothing was done to the governor.
Mr. Cuomo shared in his declaration that Ms. Bennett was "a hard-working and respected member of his team with the right to speak out." He claimed that Ms. Bennett had spoken to him about having been a sexual harassment victim, and he sought to be compassionate and constructive with his response. The governor said, “The last thing I would ever have expected was to make her feel some of the items being reported.”
The governor released a statement in which he said that he did not deny asking Ms. Bennett personal questions; he added, however, that he would have no further comment until the report was complete.
Ms. Bennett's account followed another comprehensive allegation released on Wednesday by Lindsey Boylan, a former state economic development official who alleged that Mr. Cuomo assaulted her, including making an unwelcome move with a kiss on the mouth, from 2016 to 2018.
Mr. Cuomo's office has denounced Ms. Boylan's allegations as lies, but the claims have provoked requests for inquiries into them. Additionally, the governor, a third-term Democrat, is encountering considerable political fallout over his administration's treatment of the state's nursing homes amid the flu pandemic.
After watching Ms. Boylan lay out her claims against Mr. Cuomo, Ms. Bennett tweeted the related facts, saying that if people wanted to know “what it's like to work with the Cuomo administration,” they should read Ms. Boylan's story.
The Times reached out to Ms. Bennett, and she decided to share her own abuse history. She felt she had a responsibility to potential sexual assault victims and decided to go head-to-head with Governor Cuomo over his influence.
Ms. Bennett reported that she had notified her parents and friends about the conversation with the governor and about her growing frustration, and had saved text messages from that time.
The Times checked the substance of the messages and found that they were right. Ms. Bennett has kept text messages from Ms. DesRosiers and Ms. Mogul, which said that they had met in June, but did not go into depth about what was discussed.
As Ms. Bennett said, Ms. DesRosiers and Ms. Mogul were both sympathetic to her worries. “What the governor did annoyed me.”
Bennett began working for the administration in the governor's Manhattan office in early 2019, doing brief work there as an entry-level staffer. She graduated from Hamilton College in 2017, where she had chaired a sexual assault task force and gotten involved in women's issues. Her own experience of surviving a sexual attack inspired her to try to “help sexual assault survivors be heard and enforce their rights,” the bulletin on the college's website said.
Bennett was elevated to a senior briefer and executive assistant by the end of 2019, having interviewed with Governor Cuomo. The two formed a relationship, she said, and they find parallels in their previous experiences in Westchester County: Later, she was staying with Sandra Lee, a celebrity chef, in Mount Kisco, New York. Ms. Bennett, though, was already living with her parents in a nearby village. She told Mr. Cuomo that she used to play soccer in the seventh grade, while his daughter and son are both in their mid-20s.
She said of the governor, “We got along very well.” She said that, according to her, Mr. Cuomo has also posed questions about her love life that she thought were unacceptable but not difficult to cope with.
In reality, she said that she saw him more like a father figure. “It never occurred to me that it was sexual.”
Bennett's mother got a text message from her in January of 2020. According to her notes, she had a two-hour talk with the governor about various subjects, including her career aspirations.
He had a lot to say and was very emotional and serious, but he still asked a lot of questions. It's not me.
Jessica Bennett's mother, Jessica, clarified the letter, and her impression, at the time, that the governor was serving as a tutor.
Ms. Bennett said she was asked to begin working in Albany in late March in conjunction with the state's Covid-19 initiative. Their bond started to adjust to the governor's view two months later, according to the governor.
Ms. Lee reported that she arrived at the Capitol at 7:00 a.m. on May 15th to see Mr. Cuomo already at work. Ms. Bennett has some briefing papers for Mr. Cuomo. However, Mr. Cuomo was highly talkative, talking about her love life and gossiping if she was interacting with any members of the governor's team. She left behind some notes to another Cuomo staff member that The Times investigated.
Ms. Bennett mentioned her speech about her experience as a victim of sexual harassment was to be offered to Hamilton students. She said she was taken aback by Mr. Cuomo's obvious focus on a single area of her life.
When she told her friend that he had repeatedly said, “You were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and deceived,” while staring straight into her eyes, she wrote in a different email, “The way he was chanting, ‘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.” Like he was studying me.
Ms. Bennett has said that the meeting on May 15 was “the turning point in our relationship.”
“Looking back, I see things differently,” she clarified. “That has since been clarified to me as personal grooming.”
Three weeks later, Ms. Bennett was asked to take dictation in another aide's office on the second floor.
Following the exit of the second aide, Mr. Cuomo and Ms. Bennett went on with their jobs. When they were done, she said, he insisted that she turn off her recorder, and he began a winding dialogue that continued with his frequent press conferences and involved the continuing Black Lives Matter protests.
However, Bennett claimed that the governor continued to raise personal questions, such as whether Ms. Bennett was romantically involved, whether she was monogamous in her relationships, and if she had ever had sex with older men.
Incorporated with Ms. Bennett's retelling of the story was a series of text messages with a female acquaintance from that day, June 5. She told her friend that she was nervous about even writing the encounter down.
Ms. Bennett noted, “Something just happened, and I can't even write it out or record it in a video.”
Ms. Bennett told her friend, who checked the texts' contents and authenticity but demanded anonymity because of the risk of consequences, that she and the governor had talked about the discrepancies in age relationships.
She said to her friend when she was asked if Mr. Cuomo had behaved physically against Ms. Bennett: "No, but that was the most overt it could be."
The next day, the women resumed texting about the previous day's conversation. Governor Benna had asked Ms. Bennett if she was having sex with other people while in her previous relationships.
Ms. Bennett said in the interview that Mr. Cuomo mentioned to her that he was lonely, particularly because of the breakup with Ms. Lee in 2019. He allegedly said that Ms. Lee was “out of the picture,” according to Ms. Bennett, and added that he “wasn't especially interested in dating anybody, and wanted anyone he might catch up with in the Albany area.”
Ms. Bennett, who was 25 at the time, remembered that Mr. Cuomo had wondered about her views on age gaps in relationships, wondering, “Age doesn't matter, does it?” Bennett texted her friend, as quoted in the story.
Ms. Bennett said in an interview with The Times: "In addition, he asked me if I thought age made a difference in relationships, and he also asked me in the same conversation if I had ever been with an older guy."
At one juncture, Ms. Bennett said, the governor had said that he was comfortable for everyone above the age of 22. Later, as they were debating her speech at Hamilton on her 25th birthday, this issue came up.
Bennett replied: “Yes, that's just how it felt.”
Ms. Bennett said that she had been upset by Mr. Cuomo's remarks and attempted to direct the discussion away from her personal life, something that was not “about my sex life,” as she remembered. She said she tried to steer the conversation toward topics like intellectual ideas about monogamy and power relations, and even a tattoo she was considering having.
She claimed that Mr. Cuomo had recommended that she have the tattoo on her buttocks so that no one would be able to see it while she was wearing a shirt.
According to a friend of Ms. Bennett, a former Cuomo administration employee, the executive appeared to have talked to her within hours of the June 5 incident. He checked the outlines of her narrative, and said that she had made it clear to him that she thought the governor had romantic feelings for her.
Bennett questioned her parents of the experience soon afterwards, as her mother remembered, adding that Bennett had taken a special trip home to tell them about it. “Clearly, she was upset,” said Ms. Bennett's mum.
Ms. Bennett reported that she talked to Ms. DesRosiers, Mr. Cuomo's chief of staff, on June 10, five days after the incident.
DesRosiers told us the conference had lasted ten minutes in her office. Ms. Bennett reported that she had talked with Mr. Cuomo, in which she recounted her conversation with Ms. DesRosiers, and said that Ms. DesRosiers had apologised and requested to talk to her again two days later.
After the conference, Ms. Bennett said that Ms. DesRosiers had said, “How do we do this?”, and was inquiring about whether she wished to stay in the executive branch or take a new role in the state government.
When Ms. Bennett's friend asked what it meant, Ms. Bennett clarified that she would have an outside job, but not in the administration.
Additionally, she told her friend in the same set of texts that she trusted Ms. DesRosiers, but was worried about Mr. Cuomo's reaction.
Ms. DesRosiers told Ms. Bennett two days later that she would be transferred to a new role as a health care advisor, but this time in a separate section of the Capitol. The details about her current position was made public in an email sent on June 17 to Department of Health officials. “Welcome, Charlotte!”
Ms. Bennett addressed her accusations again with the governor's special counsel, Ms. Mogul, later that month. She also clarified that she immediately wanted to “let this go and carry on.”
The other special counsel to the governor, Beth Garvey, released a statement on Saturday stating that “Ms. Bennett's questions were handled with consideration and reverence and in compliance with relevant law and policy.” She described the transition to a health care policy position as “a longstanding interest” for Ms. Bennett.
Ms. Garvey said that Ms. Bennett was briefed about the agreement, and said that she was pleased and appreciative of the manner in which it was treated. As previously reported, Barbara S. Jones, a retired federal judge in Manhattan, will head the investigation of the matter, Ms. Garvey stated.
Ms. Bennett recently departed from her role in the state government and now she lives and works in a nearby state. She said that her frustration at what had transpired had started to boil up and was the main cause for her departure.
He was patriarchal, she said. I had been hoping that I would get back in shape and have some distance, but that is extremely naive.
She went on to say that she had devoted herself to her role in the administration, even after having served with Mr. Cuomo, and had wanted to "not make him ruin this for me."
However, she added, “I found that's not how that works.”