The cable news network’s top-rated anchor was an intimate adviser to Andrew Cuomo in the last 18 months of his governorship.
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Michael M. Grynbaum and
The star CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was suspended indefinitely by the network on Tuesday after new details emerged about his efforts to assist his brother, Andrew M. 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.
Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Zucker as he weighed the fate of his 9 p.m. host.
In scores of emails and text messages between Mr. 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.
Ms. James’s report also included a text from Mr. Cuomo to Ms. 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 Ms. 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 Mr. Cuomo’s actions and the lack of discipline that he faced from the network. (In May, CNN did call Mr. Cuomo’s actions “inappropriate.”) Several employees said in interviews on Tuesday that Ms. James’s new report only deepened their unease.
All requested anonymity to avoid antagonizing management, but at least one prominent anchor put his concerns on the record this year. In May, Jake Tapper told The Times that Mr. Cuomo’s actions had “put us in a bad spot,” adding, “I cannot imagine a world in which anybody in journalism thinks that that was appropriate.”
“I certainly understand the love that Chris has for his brother, and I have a brother and I get it, but that was not a fun day,” Mr. Tapper said at the time.
An email to a representative for Mr. 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 Mr. Cuomo on his show on Aug. 16 has also drawn scrutiny in light of Ms. James’s report this week.
“I’m not an adviser, I’m a brother,” Mr. 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 Mr. 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.
The path to resignation. After drawing national praise for his leadership in the early days of the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was confronted with several scandals that eventually led to his resignation on Aug. 10, 2020. Here is what to know about his political demise:
Sexual harassment accusations. Multiple women accused Mr. Cuomo of harassment, including groping and lewd remarks. An independent inquiry by the New York State attorney general corroborated the accounts. The investigation also found that he retaliated against at least one woman who made her complaints public.
Nursing home controversy. The Cuomo administration came under fire for undercounting the number of nursing-home deaths caused by Covid-19 in the first half of 2020. The official tally might have undercounted the true toll by as much as 50 percent.
Book deal. The attorney general’s report found that Mr. Cuomo used state workers to produce his pandemic memoir, breaking a promise to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics not to use state resources for its completion. The board subsequently voted to revoke its authorization for the book.
Chris Cuomo’s involvement. Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor and Andrew Cuomo’s brother, was suspended indefinitely by the network on Nov. 30, after the New York State attorney general released new evidence about his far-reaching efforts to assist his sibling that were in breach of journalistic standards.
According to the documents, Ms. DeRosa texted Mr. 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,” Mr. 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 Ms. James’s report on Monday, CNN said only that its executives would “be having conversations and seeking additional clarity.” On his show that night, Mr. 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 Mr. Cuomo’s fate just as they were convening for a meeting on the news network’s own corporate future.
David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery, who masterminded a deal this year to merge with CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia, visited CNN’s Hudson Yards offices in Midtown Manhattan on Tuesday, four people with knowledge of the meeting said. The previously scheduled gathering was intended as a get-to-know-you session with Mr. Zaslav, who has been conducting similar meetings with executives throughout WarnerMedia, the media and entertainment company owned by AT&T since 2018. About a dozen of CNN’s top managers attended, including senior personnel from the Washington and Atlanta offices, two of the people said.
Mr. Cuomo joined CNN in 2013, when Mr. Zucker hired him away from ABC News and installed him as the host of “New Day,” a morning show. Mr. Cuomo was a veteran correspondent who had covered California wildfires, shooting rampages and war zones.
But he faced early pushback from media critics after twice interviewing his brother on CNN, including a call-in segment after Andrew Cuomo’s inclusion in People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue. At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Andrew Cuomo regularly appeared on “Cuomo Prime Time,” where their brotherly banter enthralled viewers and Mr. Zucker alike.
“You get trust from authenticity and relatability and vulnerability,” Mr. Zucker said in an April interview with The Times. “That’s what the brothers Cuomo are giving us right now.”
In an on-air apology to viewers on May 20, after The Washington Post first reported his involvement with his brother’s political effort, Mr. 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,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I can respect it, and still be there for my family, which I must.”
Tiffany Hsu contributed reporting.