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Cuomo accuser alleges a staffer took sexual harassment training for the governor

Exclusive: Ex-Cuomo aide on alleged sexual harassment
CBS News exclusive: Former Cuomo aide on governor's alleged sexual harassment 04:03

When asked Wednesday if he had completed sexual harassment training, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the "Short answer is yes." But Charlotte Bennett, one of the women accusing the governor of sexual harassment, said his office director completed the training for him in 2019.  

"In 2019, he did not take the sexual harassment training," Bennett told "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell. "I was there. I heard [the office director] say, 'I can't believe I'm doing this for you' and making a joke about the fact that she was completing the training for him. And then I heard her at the end ask him to sign the certificate." 

Stephanie Benton, Cuomo's office director, "categorically denies the exchange," according to a statement from the governor's office that added, "this is not true."  

"Some state employees take an online course; for Executive Chamber Senior Staff, the training takes the form of personal review of documentation," Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, told CBS News. "The Governor did this review of the mandated material and completed the training."  

In her interview with O'Donnell, Bennett also described what allegedly transpired after she told Cuomo's chief of staff that the governor made a number of inappropriate comments, including asking her if her experience with sexual assault impacted her sex life. 

CBS News exclusive: Ex-Cuomo aide details governor's alleged sexual harassment 05:57

In that meeting, Bennett said, she told Cuomo's top aide that she no longer wanted to work directly for him. 

"I sat down and pretty quickly just said, 'I love working here. I love you guys. But the governor crossed a line with me last week,'" Bennett said. "And she asked me what I was referring to. And I said, 'He said he was lonely, he said he wanted a girlfriend. He asked me if I had slept with older men. He said he was willing to sleep with younger women.' And at that point, that was enough for her. And she was just, like, 'What can we do here?'"

Two days later, Bennett says she was transferred to a new job.

"It felt to me like, if I got a new job, we didn't have to investigate this. And I really, did not want it to be investigated. I was terrified," she said. 

Bennett told CBS News she was happy with the deal. But after the meeting, Bennett texted her mother, saying she felt, "Happy and relieved and sad…He shouldn't have robbed this experience or this path from me." 

Then on June 30, Bennett said she was called into another meeting — this time with the governor's chief of staff and general counsel. 

"It was a long and thorough conversation," Bennett said. "At first, they apologized. They said it was inappropriate. When I asked them if they could let it go, saying, 'I don't want this to be investigated. Please drop this,' you know, because I was scared, she said, '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.'"

Charlotte Bennett and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  Courtesy of Charlotte Bennett

Debra Katz, who represents Bennett in New York state's independent investigation into the allegations, said Cuomo's staff was required by law to investigate the claims. 

"When she 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 said. 

In 2019, the governor signed into law an amendment that made it easier to prove sexual harassment. 

"The law he signed himself makes clear that sexual harassment includes creating conditions that make someone feel uncomfortable because you're sexually propositioning them," Katz said. 

In a new statement to CBS News, Cuomo's special counsel said, "We continue to believe the matter was handled appropriately and look forward to cooperating fully with the attorney general's review." 

Bennett said she is "confident" in the attorney general's investigation and called on Cuomo to step down if the investigation's findings support her allegations. 

"I think he should start telling the truth. I'm really confident in this investigation," she said. "But if this investigation finds that he has conducted himself this way, which he absolutely has because I have contemporaneous evidence, he should step down." 

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