CNN suspends Chris Cuomo after new details on help he gave his brother
By Michael M. Grynbaum and John Koblin
The star CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was suspended indefinitely by the network on earlier this week after new details emerged about his efforts to assist his brother, Andrew Cuomo, the former governor of New York, as he faced a cascade of sexual harassment accusations that led to the governor’s resignation.
Chris Cuomo had previously apologized for advising Andrew Cuomo’s senior political aides — a breach of traditional barriers between journalists and lawmakers — but thousands of pages of evidence released on Monday by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, revealed that the anchor’s role had been more intimate and involved than previously known.
“The documents, which we were not privy to before their public release, raise serious questions,” CNN said in a statement on Tuesday. “When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly. But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second. However, these documents point to a greater level of involvement in his brother’s efforts than we previously knew.
“As a result, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation,” the network added.
Cuomo’s entanglement with the last 18 months of his brother’s governorship has proved a slow-moving headache for CNN, which had stood by its top-rated anchor even as a drip of uncomfortable revelations raised questions about the network’s adherence to journalistic standards.
Jeff Zucker, CNN’s president, supported Cuomo for months, declining to discipline him even after reports showed that the anchor had participated in strategy sessions with his brother’s political team, a breach of basic reportorial conduct. Earlier this year, the network floated the idea to Cuomo that he could take a temporary leave if he wanted to focus more formally on aiding his brother’s defense.
But this week presented a harsher set of facts for Zucker as he weighed the fate of his 9 p.m. host.
In scores of emails and text messages between Cuomo his brother’s inner circle, he repeatedly offered advice — “Please let me help with the prep,” he texted a senior aide in March — and made efforts to track down the status of pending articles at other news outlets, including Politico and The New Yorker, that concerned allegations of sexual harassment by Andrew Cuomo.
At one point, the governor’s former top aide, Melissa DeRosa, asked the anchor if he could check his “sources” about a rumor that Politico was working on an article that included additional accusations. “On it,” Chris Cuomo responded.
The attorney general’s report also included a text from Cuomo to DeRosa sent a few days after a woman, Anna Ruch, told The New York Times that Andrew Cuomo had made an unwanted advance toward her at a wedding in New York City. “I have a lead on the wedding girl,” the anchor wrote in the text.
Chris Cuomo later told investigators that he had heard from a friend that “maybe she had been put up to it,” referring to Ruch’s allegation. He said that Andrew Cuomo’s aides had disabused him of that notion and that he had set his friend’s claim aside. “So that’s that,” he said.
For months, some journalists in the CNN newsroom have expressed bewilderment at Chris Cuomo’s actions and the lack of discipline that he faced from the network. (In May, CNN did call Cuomo’s actions “inappropriate.”) Several employees said in interviews on Tuesday that James’ new report only deepened their unease.
An email to a representative for Cuomo was not returned. Anderson Cooper, the usual 8 p.m. anchor on CNN, will extend his broadcast for two hours on Tuesday to take over the hour previously occupied by “Cuomo Prime Time.”
A monologue delivered by Cuomo on his show on Aug. 16 has also drawn scrutiny in light of James’ report this week.
“I’m not an adviser, I’m a brother,” Cuomo told viewers, in his first public comments after Andrew Cuomo’s resignation. He added, “I never attacked nor encouraged anyone to attack any woman who came forward. I never made calls to the press about my brother’s situation.”
But the testimony and text messages released this week suggested that Cuomo did reach out to other journalists. “When asked, I would reach out to sources, other journalists, to see if they had heard of anybody else coming out,” he told investigators.
According to the documents, DeRosa texted Cuomo in mid-March to ask if he knew the status of an article about his brother by the New Yorker investigative reporter Ronan Farrow. “Story not ready for tomorrow,” Cuomo replied. Asked by investigators, he said he had obtained that information by reaching out to a “fellow journalist who works with Ronan a lot.”
Hours after the release of James’ report on Monday, CNN said only that its executives would “be having conversations and seeking additional clarity.” On his show that night, Cuomo made no mention of the attorney general’s documents and participated in his usual friendly on-air chat with Don Lemon, the host who follows him at 10.
By Tuesday afternoon, CNN’s top executives were mulling Cuomo’s fate just as they were convening for a meeting on the news network’s own corporate future.
Cuomo joined CNN in 2013, when Zucker hired him away from ABC News and installed him as the host of “New Day,” a morning show. Cuomo was a veteran correspondent who had covered California wildfires, shooting rampages and war zones.
In an on-air apology to viewers on May 20, after The Washington Post first reported his involvement with his brother’s political effort, Cuomo conceded he had made “a mistake” in advising the governor. But he also offered a defense, describing himself as “family first, job second.”
“I know where the line is,” Cuomo said. “I can respect it, and still be there for my family, which I must.”