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When CNN fired primetime star Chris Cuomo on Saturday, the network cited new information casting fresh and harsh light on his efforts to aid his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in combating sexual harassment allegations.
Yet CNN also acted a day after a prominent Washington, D.C., workplace attorney arranged to share materials supporting accusations by a former colleague of Cuomo at ABC News that he had sexually harassed her there.
“My client came forward at this time because she felt in sharing her story and related documentation, she could help protect other women,” Debra Katz said in a statement on Sunday. She added that the woman wished to remain anonymous.
Details of the woman’s accusation could not be further determined. Katz said her client was motivated by outrage over what she said was the hypocrisy of Cuomo’s assertion to viewers of his “profound” concern for the targets of sexual harassment.
Matt Dornic, head of communications for CNN, said that outside attorneys last week determined Cuomo had committed fireable offenses related to his brother’s scandal, violating the terms of his contract. “When the new allegations came to us this week, we took them seriously, and saw no reason to delay taking immediate action,” he said in a statement.
Shortly after his firing, Cuomo tweeted a statement saying his termination was “disappointing.”
“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.
Cuomo didn’t address the sexual misconduct allegation against him by Katz’s client, but his spokesperson Steven Goldberg denied it in a statement to The New York Times. “These apparently anonymous allegations are not true,” Goldberg said, calling Cuomo’s termination “unwarranted.”
In September, Chris Cuomo’s former executive producer at ABC News wrote that Cuomo sexually harassed her by grabbing her buttocks at a going away party in 2005, saying “I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss.” Shelley Ross quoted from his subsequent email, noting that that he apologized to her husband before apologizing to her.
Documents showed Chris Cuomo’s role in helping Andrew Cuomo counter a sexual harassment scandal
Cuomo joined CNN after a long stretch at ABC News. The end of his tenure at CNN happened slowly and then all at once.
The question of Chris Cuomo’s actions had been percolating for months, ever since accusations against the then-governor first gained traction. Andrew Cuomo resigned in August after New York Attorney General Letitia James concluded that he had sexually harassed 11 women.
On Tuesday, CNN suspended Chris Cuomo following the release by James’ office of copious documents and transcripts from her investigation into accusations against the former governor. The documents released Monday included Chris Cuomo’s email and text exchanges about the scandal enveloping Andrew Cuomo as well as his hours-long deposition in which the news anchor answered questions about his own activities.
The trove of records showed that Chris Cuomo played a larger role than he had previously admitted to the public or the network in helping his brother counter mounting claims of sexual wrongdoing.
The younger Cuomo brother helped craft the official response to allegations against his brother, arguing that it should be framed in terms of a “cancel culture” dominating the liberal wing of his brother’s Democratic party. Cuomo also said he had identified one of the women accusing the governor of sexual harassment and attempted to find out what would be in a forthcoming article about then-Gov. Cuomo by the investigative journalist Ronan Farrow.
When suspending him last week, CNN initially said it would review Cuomo’s conduct. By Wednesday, the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP had gone through the documents from James’ investigation, matching his declarations of what he had done with what he had disclosed to his audience and network executives. The firm reviewed Chris Cuomo’s deposition from the AG’s investigation and other documents as well as the statements he made to CNN and viewers and found that he had violated his contract and should be terminated.
Chris Cuomo violated journalism ethics, journalists say
Numerous CNN journalists have told NPR and other news outlets that they believed Chris Cuomo had clearly violated professional and ethical canons by seeking to manage journalists’ coverage of his brother, an elected official.
Cuomo’s fraternal love-fest with his brother in the early months of COVID-19 — making the governor a prime-time source of entertainment and teasing and presenting him as an exemplar of how to handle the pandemic — has also come in for criticism. Former Gov. Cuomo’s policies are now being investigated to see whether they helped lead to hundreds of deaths at senior care facilities.
Yet Cravath concluded Chris Cuomo’s offenses were also contractual: that he had failed to disclose to his bosses what he had actually done even as they were defending him publicly. Cuomo said he acted as any brother would; CNN said he was wrong to participate in strategy calls with Gov. Cuomo’s aides but that his own involvement was limited to being a sounding board.
Cuomo had previously admitted giving advice to his brother and his brother’s staff but denied attacking any of the women who came forward or making calls to any members of the press.
Earlier last week, Dornic said the documents released by the AG’s office raised new questions about Chris Cuomo’s behavior and the version of events he had previously put forward.
“When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly,” the spokesperson said on Tuesday. “But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second.”
The legal review came to a head just as the network was learning about the sexual misconduct claim against the anchor. Katz told CNN about her client’s accusation against Cuomo on Wednesday, and by Friday she was in discussions with the network to provide documentary evidence and even make her client available for an interview with CNN’s outside attorneys.
On air, Chris Cuomo sought to pull off a high-wire act: acknowledging his support for his brother and also expressing his belief in the women who had accused the powerful Democrat of sexual harassment at a time when the nation was transfixed by #MeToo issues.
In her statement, Katz cited one quote from Cuomo to viewers of Cuomo Prime Time, in which he said: “I have always cared very deeply about these issues and profoundly so. I just wanted to tell you that.”
Katz said that was what prompted her client to come forward.
“Hearing the hypocrisy of Chris Cuomo’s on-air words and disgusted by his efforts to try to discredit these women, my client retained counsel to report his serious sexual misconduct against her to CNN,” she said.