The former Today show staff member who recently came out about an alleged in-office affair with Matt Lauer 17 years ago says she wants to empower others who find themselves in a similar situation to make better decisions.
After revealing her story in a piece published Thursday by Variety, Addie Zinone (née Collins) appeared on Megyn Kelly‘s hour of the Today show Monday to speak about the month-long relationship she says began with Lauer in June 2000 when she was working as a 24-year-old production assistant on the NBC morning show.
Zinone explained that she received a compliment from Lauer via their company instant messaging system and took the opportunity to ask for some advice before she left for a job she had accepted in West Virginia.
About a month went by without the two ever having their professional talk until Lauer followed up another message, according to Zinone: “OK…NOW YOU’RE KILLING ME…YOU LOOK GREAT TODAY! A BIT TOUGH TO CONCENTRATE.”
At first, Zinone thought it was some sort of joke or someone in the office messing with her “because it just seemed so flirty.” But Lauer assured her it was him and set up a lunch for them the next day.
Zinone told Kelly the conversation at lunch went quickly to “accomplishing his goal” of hitting on her, and they had their first alleged sexual encounter later that day when the anchor invited her to meet him in his dressing room.
“I realize that sounds very naive and silly of me because I walked over there to do that,” said Zinone. “But in that moment, I didn’t have anybody to share my fears and confusion with except for him, because what am I going to say to people?”
“I’m not suggesting that he — well, he kind of lured me, but I’m not suggesting that I’m not owning my part in this,” she continued. “I went and met him over there.”
Their alleged encounters lasted about a month, but Zinone said they’ve haunted her ever since.
“These are very hard things to talk about,” she admitted. “My family is shattered by this. They are afraid for me. This all trickles down to a lot of people that are affected, so having these conversations is really important, but also there’s a lot of shame attached to what I did.”
“My goal was to get him to see me as a human being, so it does seem odd that I would continually go see him,” she continued. “But every time it was an opportunity like, ‘Will you see me as a human being? Can we finally have a conversation?’ ”
Zinone owns that she made a “massive mistake” and struggled with hiding her story for 17 years, even when tabloid media outlets offered her thousands of dollars to come forward.
“I know who I am at my core, I know the values I have, but of course you carry shame,” she said. “Because again, he has a wife. Even now, I don’t want to pour salt on these wounds, and that’s a really scary thing. You do carry that your whole life.”
“I want to guide the conversation away from that, own my part in it, but then also talk about this power dynamic in a workplace and how that balance really does affect your thinking, your ability to think logically, to be aware of what you’re doing and the impact it’s going to have the rest of your life,” she said. “And also, if you do find yourself in the situation like I did, how can we empower young women in the future who find themselves in that situation to get themselves back, to make better decisions — to not make a mistake like I did.”
Zinone suspected that there must have been other women who had similar stories about Lauer.
“He did it so effortlessly with me that I thought for sure that there had to be other women, but I didn’t know there would be other colleagues because I thought if he continued that behavior and what he did with me, there would have to be other people coming forward,” she said. “In 17 years, we would have heard about that, right? I did feel very alone and isolated and unsure of what to do with this, and just carried it because who wants to be that person?”
Lauer, 59, was fired by NBC almost three weeks ago after the network received a “detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior,” with reason to believe “this may not have been an isolated incident.” Swiftly following his termination, women also anonymously accused the longtime anchor of sexual harassment and assault in reports published by Variety and The New York Times.
Lauer addressed the original allegations in a statement read Nov. 30 by his former co-hosts on-air. (He has not commented on Zinone’s account.)
“There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions,” he said. “To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this, I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.”
“Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly,” he continued. “Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching, and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”
Following his dismissal from the Today show, several insiders have told PEOPLE that the veteran morning host was allegedly often unfaithful to his wife of 19 years, Annette Roque, whom he wed in 1998 after meeting on a blind date. The couple share three children: sons Jack, 16, and Thijs, 11, and daughter Romy, 14.
“He regularly cheated on his wife,” one source claimed. “Everyone knew. His wife lives in the Hamptons and he lives in the city, but we never heard he made unwanted moves.”
Though Lauer and Roque are no longer wearing their wedding rings, an insider recently told PEOPLE that two are still under one roof and together.