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Charlotte Bennett details alleged sexual harassment while working for Cuomo: "He is a textbook abuser"

Cuomo accuser: Governor is "textbook abuser"
Cuomo accuser: Governor is "textbook abuser" 07:24

A lifelong New Yorker, Charlotte Bennett began working as an entry-level assistant to Governor Andrew Cuomo in January 2019. She called it a dream job. 

But when Cuomo became an international celebrity for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Bennett told CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell the attention emboldened him and she alleges he began sexually harassing her. 

"Looking back on all of this, how would you describe Governor Cuomo?" O'Donnell asked.

"He is a textbook abuser. He lets his temper and his anger rule the office, but he was very sweet to me for a year in the hope that maybe one day when he came onto me I would think we were friends or that it was appropriate or that it was okay," Bennett said.

Bennett said their professional relationship took a turn on May 15 when she alleges the governor started asking her about her love life and became fixated, repeating over and over again her history as a sexual assault survivor. 

"I think it's really strategic. I think abusers look for vulnerabilities, previous traumas, the idea that maybe I'm more willing to accept behavior because I have a history of sexual violence. Perhaps I'm not as confident in myself because of my history," she said.

Bennett said she thinks Cuomo was grooming her and says he crossed a line on June 5. 

"He wanted a girlfriend. When he said he was lonely, I mentioned that his daughters had been around. And he also rejected that and said, "Yeah, I love my-- I love my daughters, but that's-- I want a girlfriend.'" Bennett said.

She said he asked whether she'd ever been with an older man. These questions made Bennett feel deeply uncomfortable.

"I thought he's trying to sleep with me. The governor's trying to sleep with me. And I'm deeply uncomfortable and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible," Bennett said.

"And to be clear, what made you think that he was trying to sleep with you?" O'Donnell asked.

"Without explicitly saying it, he implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely," Bennett replied.

Bennett said that as she left work on June 5, she was trying not to cry and assumed she could no longer work for him.

"I'm not doing that again. I'm not engaging in that conversation or any other conversation. I'm not putting myself in a position where he physically comes onto me. It stops here. That's it," she said.

But Bennett said she was called back into the office on Saturday, June 6 and never talked publicly about the event. She said at one point on that Saturday she was the only employee working with the governor in his private office.

"I was terrified. I was shaking. I thought any moment something can happen and I have no power here," she said.

"And what happens when you're with the governor?"  O'Donnell asked.

"He asked me a few questions about how to use his iPhone and then sends me back to wait and then finally, he calls me in and he asks if I found him a girlfriend yet," Bennett said. 

"He asks you again?" O'Donnell said. "Yes. I say, 'Not yet.' I said I was working on it," Bennett replied.

Cuomo claimed in a statement that he meant no offense and was being playful.

"At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good-natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times," he said. "I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business."

Bennett said she does not believe that the governor was being playful and was not joking.

"I wasn't laughing. And he wasn't laughing," she said.

"How do you respond to viewers who may doubt your story?" O'Donnell asked. 

"It's hard enough sharing this story when it's true. I can't imagine what it would be like to sit here and tell you lies. I don't know who would do that. I couldn't make this up," Bennett said. "And also, I loved my job. Like, I really looked up to him.  I looked up to the governor. He was my mentor. I really did see it that way."

CBS News reached out to Governor Cuomo's office to respond to Bennett's claims. They referenced the governor's apology Wednesday where he said he never knew at the time he was making anyone uncomfortable. 

Cuomo, who said he will not resign, asked people to wait for the results of New York Attorney General Letitia James' office investigation into the allegations. The results will be made public after its conclusion. 

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