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Accuser's Attorney Reacts To State Report On Gov. Cuomo's Sexual Harassment

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and retaliated against one who went public. A new report from New York State's attorney general says those actions violated state and federal law. The 165-page report says the governor and his aides cultivated a toxic work environment. Cuomo calls the report biased.

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ANDREW CUOMO: And the facts are much different than what has been portrayed.

SHAPIRO: Debra Katz is the attorney representing Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant to the governor. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DEBRA KATZ: Thank you. Glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: Your client first made these claims in February. What is your reaction and her reaction to this report coming out today?

KATZ: Well, it's very gratifying when someone sticks their neck out and says something as courageous as Charlotte Bennett did, to have other people come forward, and that led to this fulsome investigation. And we are feeling relieved, and we are feeling very gratified that the investigators looked at such significant evidence, interviewed so many individuals and reached the right conclusion, which was that the governor had severely sexually harassed employees.

SHAPIRO: Beyond the harassment, as we mentioned, this report cited a toxic work environment. How does that fit in with what Charlotte Bennett, your client, experienced?

KATZ: Well, it's what all the women experienced. Governor Cuomo, who to this day continues to try to defend this behavior, routinely made inappropriate come-ons (ph) to female employees, ogled female employees, touched some, made unwanted requests for dates and other really inappropriate behavior. And that, of course, created a hostile work environment. What the report concluded today was that his top aides were aware of the behavior and simply enabled it. When women complained, as did Charlotte Bennett, they simply transferred the women out and tried to babysit the governor. Of course, that did not work. He continued to sexually harass other women. And that creates a sexually hostile work environment.

SHAPIRO: Does it surprise you that he's still in office, despite all of this being public for months now?

KATZ: At the beginning, when the allegations came out, there was a hue and cry that he resign. And what the governor said then was he was going to have this investigated, and he would be exonerated. And others stood down and said, OK, he gets the opportunity to have this investigation. Now that we have tremendous transparency and we see exactly what the governor did, he's become belligerent, and he's taking a page from many harassers' playbooks, which is simply to deny the behavior, to say that the people who testified were biased, the investigators were biased. And this is a big lie, what the governor is saying in defense of these allegations.

SHAPIRO: Governor Cuomo singled out Charlotte Bennett's case in his televised response. He said he was actually trying to help her work through her previous trauma, and he paints his behavior as a misunderstanding.

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CUOMO: They ascribe motives I never had. And simply put, they heard things that I just didn't say.

SHAPIRO: What's your response to that?

KATZ: My response to that is the governor really has a truth-telling problem. If you dig into the investigatory report, you will see that Charlotte Bennett made contemporaneous reports to the governor's chief legal counsel and top aides that the governor did exactly this. She reported it live (ph) time. She texted it live (ph) time. While the governor says that this was all a misunderstanding, his behavior is outrageous. The governor signed into law one of the most far-reaching protective laws protecting women from sexual harassment anywhere in the United States. He knows exactly what the legal requirements are, and he violated them with impunity. To suggest that this is all a misunderstanding and he was a well-meaning guy is really outrageous.

SHAPIRO: You know, there's this national narrative right now that post-Harvey Weinstein, post-Me Too, things have changed for victims of sexual harassment. And you have represented many high-profile women in these kinds of cases, including Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Do you think this narrative of a new era of accountability is accurate?

KATZ: Well, we'll see what happens in this case. Unfortunately, oftentimes harassers hunker down, as the governor is doing now. What is different is there is a willingness to believe survivors - in this case, survivors because others came forward, came forward to support one another. That is the sea change. That is not typically what's happened in the past.

SHAPIRO: So just walk us through, if the governor does continue to deny these allegations, what you think the next step needs to be.

KATZ: Well, he can deny this all he wants, but the report is devastating. There is documentary evidence substantiating all of my client's allegations and the allegations of other women as well. And what will happen next is the New York State Assembly will need to initiate impeachment proceedings, if the governor refuses to step down. What he's doing is essentially re-traumatizing victims by saying it's all a misunderstanding. Yeah, I did some of this, but it's all a misunderstanding. These women have thin skin. They just don't understand my true intentions. And I think that we no longer give men in power a path that they were just simply being themselves, which is essentially what the governor did today with his slideshow. He kisses everybody. He hugs everybody. That is not appropriate workplace behavior. And if anybody did what he did in the private sector, any CEO of any corporation, they would be fired. And the governor should be fired, too.

SHAPIRO: That's attorney Debra Katz. A New York State investigation has found that Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, including her client, Charlotte Bennett. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

KATZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.