Just four days after announcing that he would be indefinitely suspended from the network, CNN has terminated its star host Chris Cuomo following an investigation conducted by a law firm that it said had turned up “additional information” about him.
The network had said at the time that Cuomo’s suspension was “pending further evaluation,” without specifying how long that process would take or who would conduct it.
In a statement early Saturday evening, the network said that it had “retained a respected law firm” to review Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s crisis-management efforts and that “in the process of that review, additional information has come to light. Despite the termination, we will investigate as appropriate.”
The network did not initially say what that “additional information” related to. But late Saturday night, CNN acknowledged that “new allegations” were brought to the network regarding Cuomo’s conduct.
While “Chris’s conduct with his brother’s defense” had already given CNN “cause to terminate,” a company spokesperson said shortly before midnight, “when new allegations came to us this week, we took them seriously, and saw no reason to delay taking immediate action.”
CNN’s late-night statement followed a report from the New York Times, that prominent employment lawyer Debra S. Katz approached CNN on Wednesday with an allegation of sexual misconduct that a former colleague at another network made against Chris Cuomo.
Katz did not immediately reply to The Washington Post’s request for comment. Steven Goldberg, a spokesperson for Chris Cuomo, denied the allegation: “These apparently anonymous allegations are not true,” he said in a statement shared with The Washington Post. “If the goal in making these false and unvetted accusations was to see Mr. Cuomo punished by CNN, that may explain his unwarranted termination.”
His firing completes a quick and shocking turnabout for the legendary Cuomo family. Early last year, the anchor and the governor — sons of three-term New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) — were lauded in some circles as heroes of the coronavirus pandemic for their jocular and reassuring joint appearances on CNN to discuss early responses to the coronavirus crisis. Andrew M. Cuomo resigned as governor in August after James, the state attorney general, reported that he had sexually harassed 11 women during his time in office.
It seemed for several months that Chris Cuomo, the host of CNN’s most-watched show, might weather the scandal — until the release of James’s extensive investigative documents this week. CNN president Jeff Zucker broke the news in a memo to employees on Saturday evening.
“Today, I let Chris Cuomo know that we are ending his employment at CNN,” he wrote. “It goes without saying that these decisions are not easy, and there are a lot of complex factors involved.”
Cuomo acknowledged his abrupt termination in a statement on Twitter.
“This is not how I want my time at CNN to end but I have already told you why and how I helped my brother,” he said. “So let me now say as disappointing as this is, I could not be more proud of the team at Cuomo Prime Time … I owe [the Cuomo Prime Time team] and will miss that group of special people who did really important work.”
Since his suspension, the 9 p.m. hour on CNN had been hosted by anchor Anderson Cooper, extending his normal 8 p.m. show. Next week, Cuomo’s time slot is scheduled to be filled by CNN Saturday morning host Michael Smerconish. But the network had not yet settled on hosting plans beyond next week, and it will now have a bigger task on hand finding a permanent 9 p.m. host.
Cuomo’s suspension led to a round of speculation about whether he would ultimately leave the network, but someone close to the situation told The Post on Wednesday that Cuomo’s fate had not been decided and that the network would be guided by the results of “further evaluation.”
On his SiriusXM radio show Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo told listeners that he was “embarrassed” by the network’s decision to suspend him but promised to respect the network’s evaluation process. “I know they have a process that they think is important,” he said. “So, I’m not going to talk about this anymore than that.”
The 348-page interview transcript and communications records released Monday as part of the state investigation showed that Chris Cuomo played a significant role in his brother’s rapid-response operation to the harassment allegations, drafting up statements for his brother to read and weighing in on strategy debates.
Most significantly for his role at CNN, the documents showed that Cuomo leaned on his journalistic sources to glean information about forthcoming articles that could negatively impact his brother and his futile fight to keep the governorship.
“When asked, I would reach out to sources, other journalists, to see if they had heard of anybody else coming out,” he told investigators, referring to the potential for additional women to accuse his brother of misconduct.
In particular, Chris Cuomo called around to find out about the timing for an article published by New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow, though he didn’t call Farrow directly. When asked by investigators whether he had informed CNN management about his outreach regarding the Farrow article, he acknowledged he had not, arguing that it was “business-as-usual” for a journalist to check in with peers about impending articles.
In one message released as part of the investigation, Cuomo informed a top aide to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, that he had a “lead” about a woman who had accused his brother of improper behavior at a wedding.
“The documents, which we were not privy to before their public release, raise serious questions,” the network said 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.”
Now 51, Mario’s son and Andrew’s brother had emerged in recent years as a media-political powerhouse in his own right.
After an early stint at Fox News, Chris Cuomo began a long tenure at ABC News, serving as co-anchor of “20/20” and the network’s chief law and justice correspondent.
Upon taking over CNN at the beginning of 2013, Zucker made Cuomo his first hire, with the key assignment of revamping the network’s struggling morning show.
Zucker was taken by Cuomo’s flair for drama and pugilistic interviewing style, confronting both Democrats and Republicans in rhetorical combat. “He never backs down from a fight,” Zucker said in a 2019 interview. “That’s what makes him the perfect cable news anchor.”
After a successful run co-anchoring the morning show “New Day” with Alisyn Camerota, Cuomo was promoted to the 9 p.m. hour in 2018. In the third quarter of 2021, “Cuomo Prime Time” attracted nearly 960,000 total viewers on an average night, more than any other CNN program.
Yet having a governor as a brother complicated things for him, and for CNN, even as it gave his show an additional tint of relevance.
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 on air. In June 2020, the anchor lauded 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.”
In late March 2020, Chris Cuomo announced that he, too, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Over the intervening days and weeks, he offered viewers his firsthand testimonials of life with the virus, as he isolated in the basement of his family’s home. An April video of Cuomo dramatically emerging from his isolation, which he called “the official reentry from the basement,” became fodder for critics who felt that he was using his experience with a deadly illness to make what amounted to reality television.
And the popular segments with the governor raised questions about whether Chris Cuomo could truly act as an independent journalist — especially when his brother later came under criticism for his handling of the crisis. Those questions grew much louder when The Post reported in May that the newsman had joined conference calls with members of the governor’s staff to strategize on how best to respond to a growing list of accusations of sexual misconduct.
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.
Chris Cuomo faced his own accusation of misconduct in September, when his former executive producer at ABC News, Shelley Ross, alleged that he “squeezed the cheek of [her] buttock” while hugging her at a party in New York in 2005, when they both worked for ABC News.
Cuomo acknowledged the incident but said it “was not sexual in nature.” “I apologized to her then, and I meant it,” he added.
Sarah Ellison contributed reporting.
This breaking-news story, originally published at 5:25 p.m. Saturday, has been updated with new reporting.