CNN said Saturday that anchor Chris Cuomo has been “terminated” by the network, “effective immediately.”
The announcement came after an outside law firm was retained to review information about exactly how Cuomo aided his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, when the then-governor was accused of sexual harassment.
CNN suspended Cuomo “indefinitely” on Tuesday. The law firm retained by the network submitted its findings on Friday, according to a source with knowledge of the matter, and CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker fired Cuomo on Saturday.
The producers and other staffers who work on “Cuomo Prime Time” will remain in place. Michael Smerconish, Cuomo’s regular substitute, will host the 9 p.m. Eastern hour next week.
CNN said in a statement: “Chris Cuomo was suspended earlier this week pending further evaluation of new information that came to light about his involvement with his brother’s defense. We retained a respected law firm to conduct the review, and have terminated him, effective immediately.”
“While in the process of that review, additional information has come to light,” CNN’s statement added. “Despite the termination, we will investigate as appropriate.”
In a statement of his own Saturday, Chris Cuomo said, “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. So let me now say as disappointing as this is, I could not be more proud of the team at Cuomo Prime Time and the work we did as CNN’s #1 show in the most competitive time slot. I owe them all and will miss that group of special people who did really important work.”
A few hours after CNN’s announcement, the New York Times reported that a lawyer, Debra Katz, had on Wednesday told CNN of an allegation of sexual misconduct made against Chris Cuomo by a client of hers. According to the Times, the client is “a former junior colleague [of Cuomo’s] at another network.”
Katz did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did a spokesperson for Cuomo, though the spokesperson did comment to the Times, saying, “These apparently anonymous allegations are not true.”
A CNN spokesperson said in a statement, “Based on the report we received regarding Chris’s conduct with his brother’s defense, we had cause to terminate. When new allegations came to us this week, we took them seriously, and saw no reason to delay taking immediate action.”
While the contours of Chris Cuomo’s involvement with the governor’s office were reported several months ago, the specifics were detailed in a massive document dump on Monday. The documents – released by New York Attorney General Letitia James after an investigation into the governor – showed that Chris Cuomo, while working as one of CNN’s top anchors, was also effectively working as an unpaid aide to the governor.
The cozy and improper nature of the relationship was conveyed through text messages obtained by James’ office. The texts between the anchor and several aides and allies of the governor revealed that Chris Cuomo sought to use his connections in the press to help prepare Andrew Cuomo’s team as accusers started to make their stories public.
On the day his brother resigned, back in August, Chris Cuomo told viewers that “this situation is unlike anything I could have imagined.”
He pointed out that he never reported on the sexual harassment scandal or tried to interfere in CNN’s coverage. And he acknowledged that he “tried to be there for my brother” when the scandal erupted.
“I’m not an adviser. I’m a brother. I wasn’t in control of anything. I was there to listen and offer my take,” he said.
CNN management showed support for Cuomo, and “Cuomo Prime Time,” often the network’s highest-rated show, stayed on the air throughout the controversy.
But as “Reliable Sources” reported at the time, some CNN staffers were angry at Cuomo and his violations of journalistic norms.
The dissent only intensified after James’ office released the text messages, sworn testimony and other raw materials from her investigation into the ex-governor.
When the documents were released on Monday, CNN management said the “thousands of pages of additional transcripts and exhibits” would be reviewed “over the next several days.”
Then on Tuesday evening, CNN indicated that the contents were serious enough to merit a suspension.
“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 network said in a statement. “But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second.”
“However,” the network said, “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.”
Cuomo initially declined to comment. He said on his radio show on Wednesday that the suspension was “embarrassing” but understandable. He also said he never wanted to “compromise any of my colleagues” and said he would respect the process.
According to Saturday’s announcement, the process included an outside law firm, a fact that was not previously known.
With information in the texts and documents pointing to a serious breach of CNN standards, Cuomo was notified of his termination on Saturday.