On Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo finally reappeared at a press conference after a week long absence. After 20 minutes of talking about COVID, Cuomo made a statement about the sexual harassment allegations against him. He was asked later during a Q&A to whom he was apologizing. Cuomo replied he was directing his comments to the “young woman who worked here who said that I made her feel uncomfortable in the workplace.” In other words, to Charlotte Bennett.
Moments later, Cuomo was asked by another reporter if he’d taken the same sexual harassment training that other state employees are required to take. He replied, “The short answer is yes.” But according to Charlotte Bennett, that’s not true. In a segment of the CBS News interview with Bennet that aired tonight, she claims she overheard Cuomo’s office director Stephanie Benton complaining about having to take the training for the governor.
“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.”
At this point, I’m not sure why we should trust the assurances of Cuomo’s top staff. A story published this week by Gothamist which was based on interviews with current and former staffers compared working for Cuomo to being in a cult. One staffer said, “He wants people who are literally going to fall on the sword for him, and they all will.” So he’s surrounded by people who know he expect them to take the hit for him and protect him at all costs. Any statements they release at this point should be taken in that light.
Bennett also claims that when she sat down with Cuomo’s Chief of Staff and general counsel after she raised the allegations to her boss, she asked them not to investigate because she was scared about what might happen. She claims they apologized for what had happened but then told her, “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.”
“It was just grooming,” should be a bumper sticker or maybe a campaign slogan for Cuomo’s reelection. That’s not how sexual harassment works. If a boss is grooming his female employees in the office, that’s grounds for an investigation and some kind of disciplinary action. No ordinary person would still have a job if they’d done what Cuomo (allegedly) did.
Here’s the clip from tonight’s CBS Evening News. It ends with Bennett saying that if the investigation confirms her allegations, “he should step down.” Below that is another clip from the interview which ran on the CBS morning show earlier today. It contains some of the same quotes from this clip last night but some of it is new.