Collins Zinone sat down with Megyn Kelly on Monday, and explained why she's now going public with her story. The former Today show staffer said she has been previously offered thousands of dollars to talk about what she claims was their consensual affair when she was 24 years old and Lauer was around 42, but has repeatedly declined.
"I've carried this for 17 years, almost exclusively on my own," she said, explaining that she wanted to get her story out in a way that wouldn't be exploited.
Collins Zinone talked about the alleged first time she had a sexual encounter with Lauer, which she claims happened in July 2000 after he allegedly sent her flirty messages, then offered to take her to lunch to offer her professional advice.
“During the lunch, it did not go to professional advice, it went quickly to accomplishing his goal," she alleged.
Later that day, she said Lauer asked her to come to his dressing room.
"Again, I realize that that sounds very naive and silly of me beause I walked over to do that, but in that moment, I didn't have anybody to sort of share my fear and confusion except for him, because what am I going to say to people?" she explained. "I went on my own, so I'm owning that. I'm not suggesting that I'm not owning, you know, my part in this."
Collins Zinone said she felt "overwhelmed" by her relationship with Lauer, and that it was "all consuming." Their alleged affair continued after their first encounter, including during the Democratic National Convention, when she alleges Lauer called her to the bathroom.
"These are hard things to talk about," she acknowledged. "My family is shattered by this. They're afraid for me. This all trickles down to a lot of people who are affected, so having these conversations is really important, but also, there'as a a lot of shame attached to what I did. My goal was to get him to see me as a human being and so it does seem odd that I would continue to go see him, but every time it was just sort of this opportunity, like, 'Will you see him as a human being? Will we finally have a conversation?'"
"It's a massive mistake and I understand how I made it because I know who I am at my core. I know the values I have," she continued. "But of course you carry shame, because again, he has a wife. Even now, I don't want to pour salt on these wounds. You do carry that your whole life, and you're thinking, 'Why couldn't I get out of it? Why did I do that?'"
Still, she points out the difference in power dynamic between her and Lauer at the time. While Collins Zinone was a production assistant on the NBC morning show, Lauer was already a household name thanks to his high-profile co-hosting gig.
“So, I want to guide the conversation, own my part in it, but also talk about this power dynamic in a workplace, and how that imbalance really does affect your thinking, your ability to think logically, to be aware of what it is you’re doing and the impact it’s going to have for the rest of your life," Collins Zinone stressed. "And also, if you do find yourself in that situation like I did, how can we empower young women in the future, who find themselves in that situation … to make better decisions, to not make a mistake like I did?"