Brendan J. Lyons
Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
ALBANY — CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was suspended “indefinitely” by the cable news network on Tuesday, a day after the New York attorney general’s office released a trove of text messages and transcripts of interviews that revealed his deep involvement in helping his brother, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, respond to a series of sexual harassment allegations.
In a statement, the network said the transcripts, text messages and other exhibits released in connection with the attorney general’s investigation of the former governor “shed new light on Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s defense.”
The documents included a transcript of Chris Cuomo’s July interview with the attorney general’s investigators, during which the television anchor revealed his practice of deleting emails and text messages on a regular basis — including many that would otherwise have been turned over under a subpoena issued in connection with the investigation.
He also acknowledged using his journalism connections to learn information about the former governor’s accusers or the timing of stories about potential new allegations — information that he relayed to an inner circle of Andrew Cuomo’s top advisers, who were trying to guide his response to the accusations that led to his resignation in August.
“The documents, which we were not privy to before their public release, raise serious questions,” CNN’s statement 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.”
In his testimony four months ago Chris Cuomo had at one point denied giving his brother counsel about the sexual harassment allegations, but he went on during the interview to describe his deep involvement in the governor’s responses.
Other members of Cuomo’s inner circle, including Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist who served as a spokeswoman for Cuomo’s 2018 reelection campaign, testified that Chris Cuomo took part in multiple calls involving the former governor’s group of close advisors — some in the Executive Chamber, others former members or allies — who were helping him respond to the sexual harassment allegations.
“I would say that … he was joining the calls obviously, you know, as the governor’s brother, but he offered the perspective of someone who understands sort of how the media works and how things are likely to be covered in the media,” she said.
Former Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa also recalled Chris Cuomo being heavily involved with the governor’s response to the allegations.
“I talked to Chris pretty regularly,” she testified in July. “He was on some calls that we did, and he advised us on how to respond. … But he was saying, like, take a piece of this, own it, and move past it. You are never going to win the fight, so don’t try.”
The documents released Monday also included text messages between DeRosa and Chris Cuomo, who produced virtually no emails or electronic messages in response to the attorney general’s subpoenas. Chris Cuomo told the investigators during his testimony that he regularly deletes his text messages “as I go along, as is my practice.”
Several hours after the release of the new material on Monday, CNN had said in a statement that it would conduct a “thorough review” of the testimony and evidence over the coming days.
On March 9, the day the Times Union first reported that an aide, Brittany Commisso, had alleged Cuomo sexually harassed her at the Executive Mansion last year, Cuomo and DeRosa discussed the allegations; he scolded DeRosa for not informing his brother about the newspaper’s story before it broke.
“Stop hiding sh__,” Chris Cuomo texted to her. “We are making mistakes we can’t afford.”
The text exchange between Chris Cuomo and DeRosa continued. At one point, he texted “Delete thread now.”
Their electronic conversation that month also included a discussion of a story by The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow that was subsequently published on March 18 about the sexual harassment allegations leveled against the governor by Lindsey Boylan, a former aide.
“If Ronan has nothing better than Boylan that’s a great sign,” Chris Cuomo texted to DeRosa on March 14.
In another text exchange a week earlier, DeRosa informed Chris Cuomo that “one or two” more women were expected to come forward with allegations against the former governor, and she asked the CNN anchor to “check your sources.”
“On it,” Chris Cuomo texted back.
“Did you check your sources?” the investigator asked Chris Cuomo about the texts.
“I was frequently in contact when we would hear word that there were other people coming out,” he testified. “Or there was more to be learned about somebody, I would talk to other journalists to hear what they had heard.”
Chris Cuomo claimed using his journalism sources to learn when stories about his brother might be published, and then relaying that information to his brother’s inner circle without informing his network of his actions, was not improper.
Steven Cohen, a former top administration aide who continued to informally advise the governor, said he spoke to Chris Cuomo many times about his older brother and the allegations, estimating there were a half-dozen such phone calls.
“He was concerned about the response of not being aggressive enough,” Cohen said told investigators of Chris Cuomo. “He was concerned that we had the right lawyers on the case. He was concerned that at one point the governor hadn’t faced the press, and Chris thought that he needed to. He was concerned that the governor’s office or the lawyers weren’t putting out an explanation or a narrative that told the governor’s story.”
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