Speaking to PEOPLE about the situation, Van Susteren, who has been at the network for 15 years, admits she’s never had an inappropriate encounter with Ailes and originally considered Carlson’s allegations as those of a bitter employee.
“Of course, the first thing that occurred to me is that, unfortunately, we have a disgruntled employee, a colleague,” she says. “I read that her show wasn’t being renewed and , being a lawyer, I thought she got angry. I deal with Roger Ailes often. I’ve often been alone with Roger Ailes in his office over the course of 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like what I’m reading about in the papers and the magazine.”
Although Van Susteren’s relationship with Carlson was limited to co-reporting on Prince William and Princess Kate’s 2011 wedding, a few appearances on The Real Story and “a cup of coffee or a drink or something,” Van Susteren believes that sexual harassment claims would have traveled throughout the company.
“People come to me because I’ve been there so long,” she says. “That’s why this doesn’t have any ring of truth to me. I would have heard it. People don’t keep things silent.”
Regarding the claims that Ailes sabotaged Carlson’s career because she refused sexual advances and complained about sever and pervasive sexual harassment, Van Susteren says that she found them odd considering Ailes “was first to put a woman in primetime,” meaning Catherine Crier.
Van Susteren adds that “most people, man or woman, would give anything to have had the air time [Carlson] had on Fox & Friends“, and would have viewed her move to the 2 p.m. time slot as a “huge promotion” since it provided Carlson with her own hour, her own name-brand show and the freedom to “produce and do what she wanted.”
RELATED VIDEO: Fox News Anchor Gretchen Carlson Sues CEO Roger Ailes for Alleged Sexual Harassment and Retaliation
Van Susteren also described Ailes as “the king of cable,” adding that although it’s not always a perfect, she’s enjoyed a “very professional and very successful” working relationship with her boss.
“If Roger Ailes were how he’s described, there’s no way I would’ve stuck around. I don’t feel like putting up with that stuff and I wouldn’t,” she says. “Even if he weren’t doing it to me, I wouldn’t want to work in that environment. I sort of feel bad for Gretchen Carlson because it’s sort of a weird thing that she’s done. What she’s alleging is something that is alien to me. I’ve never heard it.”
On Wednesday, Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes, alleging that he “has unlawfully retaliated against Carlson and sabotaged her career because she refused sexual advances and complained about severe pervasive sexual harassment.”
The lawsuit includes Carlson’s Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, whom she claims “regularly treat[ed] her in a sexist and condescending way” when they worked together.
Ailes responded to the allegations in a statement – obtained by PEOPLE – in which he calls the claims “retaliatory.”
“Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false. This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup,” the statement reads. “When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit.”
The statement continued: “Ironically, FOX News provided her with more on-air opportunities over her 11-year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book. This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”