Addie Collins Zinone, one of the women accusing former NBC Today anchor Matt Lauer of sexual misconduct, describes her relationship with him as a "massive mistake."
As a 24-year-old production assistant at Today in 2000, she had just accepted a job in West Virginia and was eager to get any advice the powerful Lauer might have so that she could follow a similar career path to his.
Her departure was just weeks away when she received a message from Lauer about her appearance. "OK, now you're killing me. You look great today. It's a bit tough to concentrate," his message to her read, according to Zinone. She thought it was a prank.
"My first reaction was, 'Is this really you?' " She explained to Kelly, "I thought it was a joke because it just seemed so flirty and, yeah, I didn't know what to do with it."
And she says Lauer followed up on that exchange at a lunch meeting the next day.
"During the lunch, it didn't go to professional advice. It went quickly to accomplishing his goal," said Zinone, referring to his sexual intent. "I didn't really know how to keep up with that conversation."
Kelly asked, "How long after that lunch was the first physical encounter?
Zinone: "Later that day."
Now 41, Zinone described being overwhelmed and confused with nervous energy as an aspiring journalist who looked up to Lauer. She said she felt she has no one to talk to and when he asked her to meet him, she went.
Telling Kelly that she wanted to acknowledge that she was "owning my part in this," Zinone said that when she went to his dressing room later that day, "Yeah, we had an encounter."
When Kelly asked where she was emotionally after that experience, she responded, "Overwhelmed. Felt isolated, felt confused. Felt shame. It was just all-consuming. ... It takes over and then you question yourself."
And then, she added, "It also shattered my perception of him."
The sexual encounters continued for about a month, said Zinone, adding that she perceived every invitation as an opportunity for him to understand her. "My goal was to get him to try and see me as a human being."
She acknowledged, "It's a massive mistake. I understand how I made it, because I know who I am at my core. I know the values I have, but of course, you carry shame because, again, he has a wife. Even now, I don't want to pour salt on these wounds. And that's a scary thing. You do carry that your whole life and you think, 'Why could I not get out of it? Why did I do that?' "
When Kelly asked why she was talking about the experience now, Zinone had an answer ready: "I'm coming forward, No. 1, because I've carried this for 17 years and I've carried it almost exclusively on my own. Media outlets have come to me over those 17 years because he has been in the tabloids, and I have consistently said 'No comment' or not given them anything."
She added, "I have been offered thousands of dollars for my story and I want no part of that."
The time is right and Zinone says she wants to join the conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace.
"I want to guide the conversation ... own my part in it, but then also talk about this power dynamic in a workplace and how that imbalance really does affect your thinking, your ability to think logically." She says she wants people "to be aware of what it is you're doing and the impact it's going to have for the rest of your life. And also, if you do find yourself in that situation like I did, how can we empower young women in the future to ... make better decisions?"
USA TODAY reached out to Lauer's representative about the segment on Kelly's show but has not received a response.
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