CNN has suspended prime time anchor Chris Cuomo “indefinitely, pending further evaluation,” after new documents revealed the cozy and improper nature of his relationship with aides to his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
A second hour of “Anderson Cooper 360” aired in Cuomo’s place on Tuesday night. A town hall about Covid-19 will air Wednesday night.
Tuesday’s announcement about the suspension was the equivalent of a cable news shockwave. Cuomo’s 9 p.m. program is frequently CNN’s most-watched hour of the day. He is a larger-than-life presence at the network. And he was determined to stay on TV this year despite a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations against his brother, which culminated in the governor’s resignation three months ago.
But new documents released on Monday showed that the veteran journalist was more intimately involved than previously known in shaping his brother’s defense.
“The New York Attorney General’s office released transcripts and exhibits Monday that shed new light on Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s defense,” a CNN spokesperson said Tuesday evening. “The documents, which we were not privy to before their public release, raise serious questions.”
“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 continued. “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,” the spokesperson added. “As a result, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation.”
The spokesperson did not share any further details, but it’s possible that Cuomo will remain on the bench for weeks.
The anchorman declined to comment on Tuesday night, but he took to his radio show Wednesday to address the suspension.
“It hurts to even say it. It’s embarrassing,” he said on his SiriusXM show. “But I understand it.”
Chris Cuomo said that he never wanted to “compromise any of my colleagues” and said he will respect the process evaluating his conduct. He added he will refrain from talking about the issue further.
The suspension came after significant criticism from people who noted that Cuomo had violated widely accepted journalistic norms. Inside CNN, some staffers expressed dismay about the anchor’s conduct. Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Andrew Cuomo who came forward in February to accuse him of sexual harassment, called for CNN to “immediately take action.”
“Anything short of firing Chris Cuomo reflects a network lacking both morals and a backbone,” Bennett said in a tweet Tuesday.
The “Cuomo Prime Time” team had been planning for Tuesday’s broadcast up until the suspension announcement around 6:15 p.m. Eastern, a person familiar with the matter said. Cooper’s team was also blindsided by the news and left scrambling to fill the extra hour.
After the news was made public, an emotional Chris Cuomo met with the show’s staff.
While many media critics said the suspension was necessary, some viewers expressed disappointment that he was taken off the air.
CNN has not said what will fill the time slot while Cuomo is sidelined.
The documents released by New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday included text messages and transcripts of interviews with investigators who led the probe into allegations against the governor.
The cache of documents included text messages between Chris Cuomo and Melissa DeRosa, a then-top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that suggested he was instrumental in working to craft a defense against a flood of sexual misconduct allegations.
The text messages also revealed that Chris Cuomo sought to use his connections in the press to help prepare the then-governor’s team as accusers started to make their stories public.
Chris Cuomo also acknowledged to investigators that he did attempt to learn more about a story by journalist Ronan Farrow. The anchor defended the practice as conventional.
“The idea of one reporter calling another to find out about what’s coming down the pipe is completely business-as-usual,” he said.
When Andrew Cuomo resigned as governor in August, Chris Cuomo told CNN viewers that he was “not an advisor,” but “a brother.” He acknowledged that he talked with his brother’s aides and gave his “take” until CNN told him to stop doing so in May.
The “Cuomo Prime Time” anchor also said on the air in August, “I never attacked nor encouraged anyone to attack any woman who came forward. I never made calls to the press about my brother’s situation.”
Monday’s revelations cast some doubt on his statement about his interactions with the press.
“I would – when asked, I would reach out to sources, other journalists, to see if they had heard of anybody else coming out,” Chris Cuomo said during testimony.
Chris Cuomo also said under oath what he told CNN viewers earlier this year: That he “never influenced or attempted to control CNN’s coverage of my family.”
During the questioning, he reiterated that sentiment, saying, “If I had tried to influence any of the reporting at CNN or anywhere else, I guarantee you people would know, and so would a lot of others.”
In its May statement, CNN had said, “Chris has not been involved in CNN’s extensive coverage of the allegations against Governor Cuomo — on air or behind the scenes.” The network’s statement added, “In part because, as he has said on his show, he could never be objective. But also because he often serves as a sounding board for his brother. However, it was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor’s staff, which Chris acknowledges. He will not participate in such conversations going forward.”
The anchor at the time also took to his show to say that he is “family first and job second” and apologized for how he helped his brother.
“It will not happen again. It was a mistake, because I put my colleagues here, who I believe are the best in the business, in a bad spot,” he said. “I never intended for that I would never intend for that and I am sorry for that.”
While a report on the sexual misconduct allegations against Andrew Cuomo was released in August, James’ office continues with a separate investigation into allegations he misused state resources for the development, production and promotion of a book he wrote on the pandemic.
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Andrew Cuomo, called the latest release of transcripts, documents and videos a “manipulated release.”
“New Yorkers are no one’s fool and James and her colleagues’ obvious misuse of government resources to damage political opponents is as obvious and repugnant as it is unethical and illegal,” Azzopardi said in a statement.
CNN’s Sonia Moghe contributed to this report.