The network and its president, Jeff Zucker, had previously backed Cuomo for months, even as details accumulated about his role advising his brother, who eventually resigned in the wake of the sexual harassment allegations.
In May, The Washington Post reported that Cuomo had joined conference calls to discuss how to handle the allegations. At the time, the network said it was “inappropriate” for Cuomo to engage in conversations that included members of the governor’s staff; the host acknowledged his error in doing so and pledged not to do so again.
But after the state attorney general released a cache of documents from its Cuomo investigation — including text messages between the journalist and the governor’s aides that showed he had drafted statements for his brother to issue, demanded a larger role in strategy, contacted fellow journalists to find out about potential articles about his brother and attempted to research his accusers — the network said on Tuesday that he had gone too far.
“The documents, which we were not privy to before their public release, raise serious questions,” a spokesperson said. “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 has not indicated whether Cuomo will regain his role at CNN upon such evaluation or how long the suspension will last.
In one message that was released on Monday, Cuomo wrote to top gubernatorial aide Melissa DeRosa, “Please let me help with the prep.”
On another occasion, the younger Cuomo texted DeRosa that he needed “all the best facts” to offer reporters. “Who can do it?”
The messages showed that he was personally involved in trying to learn the publication date for an article by the New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow that included an extensive interview with one of the governor’s accusers, Lindsey Boylan, along with a rumored article in Politico. He was asked by DeRosa for “intel” and replied that he would ask his “sources” for information. He wrote that he had a “lead” on a woman who had accused his brother of touching her inappropriately at a wedding in a New York Times story.
When asked by investigators why he had intervened with the Farrow story, Cuomo replied, “Because there was going to be an article about my brother. So I’m interested. I wasn’t going to call the person writing it. I wasn’t going to try to influence any of the stories. And we know that that’s true because you would have read about it had I. It’s not exactly a loyalty-based business.”
According to a transcript of his July interview with investigators, Cuomo acknowledged that he did not inform his superiors of his outreach. “I never did,” he said.
Cuomo argued that it was “business-as-usual” and “not something that would be out of the ordinary” for a journalist such as himself to call around about a potential story.
CNN’s decision to suspend him was a surprise to some staffers, who noted Zucker’s long-standing defense of his biggest on-air personality. Cuomo hosted his CNN show as usual on Monday night and did not discuss the burgeoning scandal.
On his SiriusXM radio show on Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo seemed to criticize the process that led to his brother’s resignation, arguing that the former governor did not receive due process. “Andrew had his party enforcing a rule against him that if you have accusations, you have problems, and you don’t really get to vet the accusations and you don’t get to go against your accusers,” he said. “But eventually when there wasn’t going to be due process, and his party was against him, then he had no choice because he couldn’t do the work of the state anymore.”
Zucker hired Cuomo in his first month as president of the cable giant in January 2013, when he deployed the former ABC News reporter to help turn around CNN’s then-struggling morning show. The two have an easy rapport, according to people who work with both men.
Cuomo’s 9 p.m. show, “Cuomo Primetime,” is regularly the network’s most-watched program. During the third quarter of this year, the show led all CNN programs in total viewers with nearly 960,000 on an average night — though it has long trailed the competition on Fox News, Sean Hannity’s show, and Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC.
News organizations typically try to maintain clear boundaries between journalists and newsmakers, in an effort to maintain their independence. It’s considered a breach of ethics for a journalist — including those who engage primarily in giving their opinions — to support a source or public official, whether financially or in an advisory role.
Hannity, Cuomo’s time slot rival at Fox News, advised Donald Trump behind-the-scenes as a candidate and later president and offered a similar defense as Cuomo when it was revealed. “Do I talk to my friend who I’ve known for years and speak my mind? I can’t not speak my mind,” he told the New York Times in 2016.
Fox News later offered mild criticism when Hannity and fellow host Jeanine Pirro appeared onstage at a Trump rally in 2018, saying it “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events” though the network did not say how it had addressed the issue. Hannity at the time said that he was “not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States” and that “I never claimed to be a journalist.”
Cuomo, meanwhile, for months has defended his behind-the-scenes work for his brother by saying that in his life, family came first and his job came second.
“I can be objective about just about any topic, but not about my family,” he said on his CNN show on May 20. He seemed to downplay his role, saying that he had made a “mistake” being “looped into calls” with the governor’s friends, advisers and staff because it put his colleagues at CNN in a “bad spot.”
When Cuomo joined CNN, the network said he would not be involved in reporting on stories related to his brother. But in the spring of 2020, when New York was at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, the younger Cuomo interviewed his brother six times — at one point brandishing a giant nasal swab. In June 2020, the anchor enthused about his brother’s leadership during the pandemic: “I love you as a brother, obviously I’ll never be objective, obviously I think you’re the best politician in the country.”
While CNN had objected to his involvement in official strategy calls, the network chose not to suspend him at the time. But Monday’s revelations brought a new wave of heat and pressure on the network.
CNN’s decision to suspend Cuomo came as the network is preparing to merge with Discovery, whose CEO David Zaslav visited CNN’s Manhattan headquarters Tuesday, according to two people familiar with the matter.
CNN had previously defended Cuomo after The Post reported earlier this year that the host and his family received special coronavirus tests courtesy of a New York state doctor who drove to their Hamptons home to administer them.
With his suspension, Chris Cuomo is only the latest associate to suffer consequences from involvement in Andrew M. Cuomo’s scandal. The former governor’s longtime lawyer, Alphonso David, was ousted as head of the Human Rights Campaign, after it was revealed he provided a personnel file that was used to smear an accuser. Tina Tchen, the CEO of the women’s advocacy group Time’s Up, resigned after it was reported she helped the Cuomo team craft its defense. Two other longtime Cuomo advisers parted with their firm, Kivvit, after their involvement in helping him strategize his defense became clear.
CNN has not made any announcement of who will replace Chris Cuomo. On Tuesday, Anderson Cooper extended his 8 p.m. show into Cuomo’s usual 9 p.m. hour.
Josh Dawsey and Paul Farhi contributed to this report.