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Bloomberg Offers 3 Women Release From Nondisclosure Agreements

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he's ready to release three women from nondisclosure agreements. They're related to comments they say Bloomberg made during his business career. The Democratic presidential candidate has been under pressure since The Washington Post reported the existence of the agreements. And he came under fire at this week's Democratic debate in Nevada, especially from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIZABETH WARREN: I'm sorry. No, the question is, are the women bound by being muzzled by you? And you could release them from that immediately.

CORNISH: And, of course, that audio from NBC News - joining us in studio with more on this, NPR's Kelsey Snell. Welcome back.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

CORNISH: What have you learned about these agreements and these women?

SNELL: Bloomberg says that he and his company have identified three nondisclosure agreements that were signed over more than 30 years. He doesn't identify the women or say much about who they are. And he puts it on them to come forward and ask if they want to be released. When The Washington Post did originally report on this, they identified three women as well, and they named them based on public records and lawsuits. But that's the only information we have right now.

CORNISH: And what more does Bloomberg say he's going to do?

SNELL: He released a fairly lengthy statement. And he said that he's willing to release the agreements because he says, quote, "I recognize that NDAs, particularly when they are used in the context of sexual harassment and sexual assault, promote a culture of silence in the workplace and contribute to a culture of women not feeling safe or supported," which is, essentially, the argument that Warren was making throughout the debate. He does go on to outline a broader plan, and he talks about addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and workplace equality. A couple of the things that he mentions there are 12-weeks paid family leave and paycheck fairness. And he's saying that this is part of a broader push by his campaign and making it not just about these nondisclosure agreements but also about the policies he would promote as president.

CORNISH: Can we talk about the why right now? I mean, as we mentioned, Elizabeth Warren came down on the former mayor very hard in the debate. And I mean, based on what I saw, he didn't look eager to jump on this issue then.

SNELL: Yeah, it was a very uncomfortable moment for him, it seemed, and he seemed to struggle to respond to the question. You know, he - Warren came after him repeatedly, and she kept bringing it back up. And, you know, this is a little bit of the back-and-forth that we heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We have a very few nondisclosure agreements.

WARREN: How many is that?

BLOOMBERG: Let me finish.

WARREN: How many is that?

BLOOMBERG: None of them accuse me of doing anything other than - maybe they didn't like the joke I told. And let me just - and let me point...

SNELL: He has been criticized a lot for that statement about a joke I told. We saw it all over Twitter, and Warren has brought that back up again. She definitely has not let this go. She brought it back up again at the opening of a CNN town hall last night, where she held up a contract. She said that she is a lawyer. She knows how these things work, and she said it was a contract that he could use to release the women from their agreements. It's also pretty important to remember that Bloomberg's base of support here is, primarily, suburban women, and he is making a really strong effort in many of the ads that he has put together so far to target women specifically. He has an ad - it includes just women talking about their experience and why they're supporting him. And he needs to kind of shore up this part of the conversation with those women.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thank you so much for following this.

SNELL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF VENTURA'S "CITY OF THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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