Bloomberg Says He’s Willing to Release 3 Women From Nondisclosure Agreements

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LAS VEGAS — Michael R. Bloomberg said Friday that he was willing to release three women from nondisclosure agreements with his company so they could discuss their complaints about him publicly — reversing himself after he resisted doing so while under fire from his rivals at this week’s Democratic presidential debate.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Mr. Bloomberg, who is also the former mayor of New York, said officials at Bloomberg L.P. had identified three nondisclosure agreements made with women related to “complaints about comments they said I had made.”

“If any of them want to be released from their N.D.A. so that they can talk about those allegations, they should contact the company and they’ll be given a release,” Mr. Bloomberg said in the statement. “I’ve done a lot of reflecting on this issue over the past few days and I’ve decided that for as long as I’m running the company, we won’t offer confidentiality agreements to resolve claims of sexual harassment or misconduct going forward.”

But the carefully worded statement by Mr. Bloomberg did not appear to release all former employees of his media and technology company from such agreements. For instance, it did not say he would allow former employees to speak out if they had signed nondisclosure agreements after complaining of harassment from any person other than Mr. Bloomberg.

Mr. Bloomberg made the announcement after facing withering criticism from Democratic rivals in the debate on Wednesday, most notably from Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“We need to know is exactly what’s lurking out there,” Ms. Warren said, standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Bloomberg on the stage in Las Vegas. “He has gotten some number of women, dozens, who knows, to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace.”

“None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” Mr. Bloomberg responded, amid groans from the audience. “There’s agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet and that’s up to them. They signed those agreements, and we’ll live with it.”

The harsh questioning seemed to fluster the mayor, whose debate performance was largely panned, and top aides took responsibility for poorly preparing the candidate.

Ms. Warren continued to criticize the mayor this week, including during a CNN town hall program on Thursday. Ms. Warren, who used to teach contract law, presented a “release and covenant not to sue” document that she said would free the people bound by the nondisclosure agreements to speak.

The mayor’s inability to answer some questions on the debate stage also drew criticism from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who said in an interview released Friday that he was surprised by how unprepared Mr. Bloomberg seemed in the debate, and predicted that President Trump would “chew him up and spit him out” in a general-election debate if he won the nomination.

In an excerpt from the interview, recorded Thursday and set to be broadcast on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night, the correspondent Anderson Cooper asked Mr. Sanders whether he was surprised by Mr. Bloomberg’s struggles to answer “some very basic, obvious questions.” Mr. Sanders, the Democratic primary’s current front-runner, said he was.

“If that’s what happened in a Democratic debate,” he added, “you know, I — I think it’s quite likely that Trump will chew him up and spit him out.”

Asked whether he was less worried about Mr. Bloomberg as a rival for the nomination after his debate performance, Mr. Sanders turned the question around and renewed his attack on Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign spending from his personal fortune.

“I am worried about an unprecedented amount of money being spent on a campaign,” Mr. Sanders said. “And — you know, we’ve never seen anything like this in American history. And I just think, though, that the American people will rebel against this type of oligarchic movement. We are a democracy. One person, one vote. Not a guy worth $60 billion buying an election.”

Though Mr. Bloomberg is not competing in the Nevada caucuses this weekend, he has been rising in national polls and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to boost his candidacy. And despite having amassed no pledged delegates to this point, his campaign has called on other candidates to exit the race so that he can run head-to-head against Mr. Sanders.

Nick Corasaniti reported from Las Vegas, and Matt Stevens from New York.

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