One of the two women who have accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment blasted his “predatory behavior” on Monday, and called on other women to come forward if they have similar complaints about him.
Charlotte Bennett’s request came as New York Attorney General Letitia James said that Cuomo’s office had formally requested an independent investigation of the allegations by Bennett and another former aide, Lindsey Boylan.
“For anyone who needs to hear this, know I am holding space for you, too,” Bennett said in a statement. “To the Governor’s survivors: I am here. Lindsey is here.”
“You do not have to say a single word. But if you choose to speak your truth, we will be standing with you. I promise.”
Bennett has retained a leading employment discrimination lawyer, Debra Katz, who in her own statement said that Bennett “will cooperate fully with the Attorney General’s investigation.”
“We are confident that no disinterested investigator who reviews this evidence would adopt the Governor’s self-serving characterization of his behavior as mentorship or, at worst, unwanted flirtation,” Katz said. “He was not acting as a mentor and his remarks were not misunderstood by Ms. Bennett.”
“He was abusing his power over her for sex. This is textbook sexual harassment.”
James, in a statement about her authority over the probe, said, “This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously.”
Bennett, in her statement, said Cuomo “has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior.”
“As we know, abusers – particularly those with tremendous amounts of power – are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences,” she said.
Bennett noted that “it took the Governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation” after she went public with her allegations Saturday in a New York Times article.
“These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice,” Bennett said.
Cuomo over the weekend first suggested the allegations by Bennett and Boylan be investigated by a former federal judge who previously worked with the governor’s top advisor.
Cuomo then pivoted, with his office suggesting that James and Chief Judge Judith Kaye, who heads the state’s highest court, jointly oversee the probe.
James refused to share oversight. And the governor’s office, dealing with a growing political backlash to both the allegations and his machinations seeking to control the investigation, agreed to ask the attorney general to handle the probe.
Bennett said that in coming forward with her account “I fully expected to be attacked by those who reflexively question the honesty or motivation of those who report sexual harassment. I am not deterred by these voices.”
She also said that, “Coming forward was an excruciating decision. I decided to share my story because I had faith that I would be supported and believed. This is often not the case.”
“Sharing my experience was only possible because of past survivors who stood up and told their stories. I hope that my story helps other survivors feel like they can stand in their truth.”
CNBC has requested comment from Cuomo’s office.
A referral letter by Cuomo’s office to James on Monday granted her request to have the claims by Bennett and Boylan be investigated by a private attorney or attorneys deputized by the attorney general.
The letter from Cuomo’s special counsel, Beth Garvey, said that the findings of that investigation “will be disclosed in a public report.”
The letter also said that “due to the nature of this review” the governor’s office will not approve or be sent weekly reports which are normally expected under the state law authorizing the attorney general to deputize outside lawyers for such a probe.
“All New York State employees have been directed to cooperate fully with this review,” Garvey wrote in the letter, which James released.
“I will serve as point of contact for any witness interviews or document production for the Executive Chamber and will connect you with appropriate counsel in any other agency or entity for any documents or witnesses necessary for the review,” Garvey wrote.
Bennett, 25, told the Times in an article published Saturday that the 63-year-old Cuomo had asked her questions including whether she “had ever been with an older man,” whether she was monogamous in her relationships and other personal questions that made her feel uncomfortable.
Boylan has said that Cuomo once kissed her without her consent, and jokingly suggested playing strip poker on an official flight.
Cuomo has denied the 36-year-old Boylan’s claims.
But in a statement released Saturday, the governor did not dispute Bennett’s claims of what he had said.
“I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm. I spend most of my life at work and colleagues are often also personal friends,” Cuomo said that day.
“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,” the governor said.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
Cuomo also said, “To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”