PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After trying to kill the story for a week and then publicly denying its accuracy, Democrat Don Carlson acknowledged Friday he broached a romantic relationship with a student while serving as a college professor and expressed regret over his actions.

Carlson, a 62-year-old candidate for Congress, posted a video message on YouTube downplaying the episode, which occurred at Williams College in 2019 and was revealed Wednesday by Target 12. He said it stemmed from an “awkward conversation” with the graduating senior after the student referenced a website used by people who pay to go on dates.

“I somehow misinterpreted the description as a suggestion of a different relationship after graduation,” Carlson said in the video, alluding to a text message he sent to the student in which he referenced the website.

“I was wrong about that,” Carlson said. “He gently corrected me and I apologized profusely. He accepted my apology and said nothing had changed about our friendship, and that meant a lot to me.”

By posting a prerecorded video rather than holding a news conference, Carlson left reporters unable to ask follow-up questions about his assertions. He also gave no indication he intends to release the text messages publicly.

Still, Carlson’s comments Friday contradicted a statement issued just a day earlier by his campaign that said: “Despite what some unnamed third party may have thought, Don has never made an overture to a student.” That statement was issued before Target 12 aired a follow-up story Thursday night revealing additional details about the episode.

As Target 12 previously reported and Carlson confirmed in the video, a second student eventually learned of the text exchange and reported it to officials at Williams, where Carlson was a prominent alum as well as an on-and-off faculty member. Although no formal Title IX complaint was ever filed, after reviewing the incident college leaders told Carlson he couldn’t return to teach there in the future.

In the video, Carlson indicated he had been left in the dark about exactly what triggered his conversation with Williams officials. And he defended his actions, arguing that the senior “had never been my student and I had never supervised him at all.”

“The bottom line is that I never had any romantic relationship with that man or with any student present or former at any institution to which I’ve been affiliated and no cash changed hands,” he said in the video. “And that’s all that happened.”

Carlson also confirmed Target 12’s report that in a follow-up text message, he offered $5,000 to help the student financially, claiming the offer was “seed money” to help the student launch a startup on the West Coast.

“He wound up not doing that, and we never followed through,” Carlson said. “But we did talk about it.”

Williams spokesperson Jim Reische has declined to answer specific questions about the 2019 episode, but has left no doubt about college leaders’ feelings toward Carlson or their reaction to what Reische described as “disturbing” allegations.

Without explicitly denying that college officials told him he couldn’t return, Carlson had claimed Thursday that he “never intended” to return to Williams. That caused Reische to shoot back, “we’re relieved to hear that Don Carlson has no interest in trying to teach here again.”

Carlson is one of 12 Democrats competing in the Sept. 5 primary for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. He remains the best-funded candidate in the race, though polling by rival campaigns has consistently shown him trailing in single-digits.

A wealthy Jamestown resident and Harvard Law School graduate, Carlson hired multiple lawyers in the week after Target 12 first sought comment to try and pressure the station not to air the findings of the weekslong investigation into his conduct at Williams.

Carlson on Friday characterized the stories as “political attacks,” and also suggested that “malicious stories spread with amazing speed and vindictiveness, especially when they’re about gay and lesbian politicians.” (Democrat Nick Autiello, who shared the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund endorsement with Carlson before exiting the primary, has pushed back at Carlson.)

Carlson’s campaign has said he still plans to participate in WPRI 12’s congressional primary debate, which will air live on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Ted Nesi ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Eli Sherman ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tim White ( is Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.