After initially issuing a blanket denial of ex-aide Charlotte Bennett’s sexual harassment allegations, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is now acknowledging that some of his behavior might be misconstrued as “unwanted flirtation.”
“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny,” a new statement, released on by Cuomo on Sunday evening, reads. “I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way.”
In general terms, Cuomo seems to admit that some of Bennett’s accusations—which included instances of the governor asking about her romantic and sexual preferences—would not be entirely unlike him. But Cuomo frames these sorts of interactions as playful teasing; he maintains that any provocative subtext was unintended and that he never touched anyone inappropriately. (Bennett alleged a nonconsensual kiss.) “I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married,” he said. “I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is very serious business.”
“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,” Cuomo continued. “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 asked that anyone harassing Bennett for coming forward with her account immediately stop.
This is an obvious shift in tone from just 48 hours ago, when Cuomo insisted he “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” In December, when former advisor Lindsey Boylan made allegations similar to Bennett’s, Cuomo’s office said there was “simply no truth” to her claims. What has changed?
Cuomo now faces an independent investigation from New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office; after coming under fire for appointing a judge of his choice to the case, he has asked James to tap a private lawyer instead. So far, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki are among those who have expressed support for the investigation.
Cuomo’s new statement is undoubtedly concerned with liability; but it is also part of the carefully choreographed dance Democratic men often perform when they find themselves on the receiving end of sexual misconduct allegations. Having supported the #MeToo movement in the past (and wanting to distinguish themselves from their Republican colleagues) they often find themselves supporting women’s right to “speak out” while simultaneously denying that what they say is true—an objectively untenable position.
Or, as in Cuomo’s case, they might find themselves attempting to craft an apology in the same way they might defuse a bomb, expressing enough remorse to be exonerated, but not so much that they admit guilt.