CNN on Tuesday suspended host Chris Cuomo indefinitely after documents revealed he was more deeply involved in damage-control efforts for his brother, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during a sexual harassment scandal earlier this year.
A CNN spokeswoman, in an email to CNBC, said that transcripts and exhibits released by New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday “shed new light on Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s defense” and “raise serious questions” for the network, which had not known about the extent of his role.
“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 spokeswoman said.
“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 suspension came within hours of a demand by a former aide to Andrew Cuomo, Charlotte Bennett, that CNN should fire Chris Cuomo.
Bennett said Chris Cuomo had tried to smear her and other women who had accused his brother of sexual harassment.
“Anything short of firing Chris Cuomo reflects a network lacking morals and a backbone,” wrote Bennett in a tweet, which said his “behavior is reprehensible, unprofessional and inexcusable.”
“Does CNN stand by journalistic integrity, or will it simply excuse his actions because Chris Cuomo drives ratings?”
On Monday, James, who had commissioned an investigation of Andrew Cuomo earlier this year after a number of women accused him of sexually harassing them, released documents related to Chris Cuomo, who counseled his brother and the governor’s staff about how to deal with the rising number of claims.
Andrew Cuomo denied wrongdoing but resigned in August a week after James released the damning findings of the investigation. At least 11 women had accused Andrew of harassment.
In the newly released documents, Chris Cuomo told investigators that he neither tried to find any information to disparage accusers of his brother nor did he “even know of any opposition research being done” by the governor’s staff.
But the documents elsewhere indicate that Chris Cuomo forwarded to his brother’s advisors a tweet that references a complaint from a college that involved Bennett.
And the documents show that in March, days after The New York Times reported that Andrew Cuomo attempted to kiss a woman named Anna Ruch in an unwanted advance at a wedding, Chris Cuomo texted top Gov. Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa with the message: “I have a lead on the wedding girl.”
Bennett in a tweet Tuesday wrote, “Yesterday, we learned just how far Chris Cuomo was willing to go to discredit, silence and smear women, like me, who came forward to report Governor Cuomo’s sexual misconduct,”
“In addition to scouring the internet for personal information about me, he reached out to his professional network with the hope of intercepting additional allegations against his brother.”
“CNN must immediately take action,” she wrote.
In an interview with investigators in July, the transcript of which was released only Monday, Chris Cuomo claimed: “I would never do oppo [opposition] research on anybody alleging anything like this. I’m not in the oppo research business.”
“I don’t tolerate a lot of oppo research on any level,” Chris Cuomo said.
“And I was never aware of anything like what you’re suggesting, nor did I ever participate in, nor did I ever suggest, nor would I ever tolerate anything like what you’re suggesting.”
Chris Cuomo said in the same interview that he did not recall receiving a complaint related to Hamilton College, the school that Bennett attended.
But another witness questioned in the probe, Democratic strategist Lis Smith, was asked by an investigator about “a text message from Chris Cuomo forwarding a purported set of documents concerning Charlotte Bennett from her time at college.”
“It looks like tweets, like he’s sending tweets about something,” replied Smith, who was Andrew Cuomo’s spokeswoman when he ran for re-election in 2018, and who was advising the governor’s team how to deal with the sexual harassment claims earlier this year.
The investigator then asked Smith “There is a [redacted] against [redacted] that involves Charlotte Bennett, do you see that in the tweet?”
“Yeah,” replied Smith, who later added that they did not remember Chris Cuomo passing along the tweet, or being involved in any discussions about that.
Chris Cuomo told investigators that tapped people he called “sources” for information about allegations against his brother. He also said he talked to those sources about yet-to-be-published news stories.
“I would – when asked, I would reach out to sources, other journalists, to see if they had heard of anybody else coming out,” Cuomo told investigators.
Ratings for Cuomo’s nightly show, “Cuomo Prime Time,” were relatively strong, but recently they fell to a low point.
CNN announced earlier this month that the show averaged 826,000 in total viewers this month, “delivering the network’s highest rated program in total viewers.” The Wrap reported a week after the ratings announcement that Cuomo’s program had hit an all-time low in the ratings.