Chris Cuomo’s Firing Came After Sexual Misconduct Claim; Anchor’s Spokesperson Denies Allegations And Calls Termination “Unwarranted” — Update

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UPDATED, Sunday, 6:37 AM PT: Chris Cuomo is calling his termination from CNN “unwarranted” following a report that a junior colleague at another network came forward with an allegation of sexual misconduct.

“These apparently anonymous allegations are not true,” a spokesperson said. “To the extent that they were sent to CNN to negate what Chris Cuomo told his audience, he fully stands by his on-air statements about his connection to these issues, both professionally and in a profoundly personal way. If the goal in making these false and unvetted accusations was to see Mr. Cuomo punished by CNN, that may explain his unwarranted termination.”

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CNN fired Cuomo after conducting a review of new information about the extent to which he assisted his brother, Andrew Cuomo, as he faced allegations of sexual harassment. The New York governor resigned in August.

According to The New York Times, attorney Debra Katz informed CNN on Wednesday that a client, described as a junior colleague at another network, alleged sexual misconduct against Chris Cuomo. She said that it was “unrelated to the Gov. Andrew Cuomo matter.”

Katz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was not immediately clear what role the allegation played in Cuomo’s termination.

A CNN spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday, “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.”

In September, Shelley Ross, a former executive producer at ABC News and CBS News, wrote an essay for The New York Times in which she described a 2005 incident in which she said Chris Cuomo groped her at a going away party for a colleague. In a statement to the Times, Cuomo said, “As Shelley acknowledges, our interaction was not sexual in nature. It happened 16 years ago in a public setting when she was a top executive at ABC. I apologized to her then, and I meant it.”

In August, Chris Cuomo said on his show that he urged his brother to resign, but “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 and I never influenced or attempted to control CNN’s coverage of my family.”

“I’m not an adviser. I’m a brother,” he said.

PREVIOUSLY: CNN said today that anchor Chris Cuomo has been “terminated” by the network, “effective immediately.”

The move comes as an outside law firm was retained to discover how much Cuomo aided his brother, former New York state governor Andrew Cuomo, when he was accused of sexual harassment.

“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,” said a CNN statement. “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.”

Cuomo issued his own statement.

“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.”

In a memo to staffers on Saturday, CNN President Jeff Zucker wrote, “Today, I let Chris know that we are ending his employment at CNN. It goes without saying that these decisions are not easy, and there are a lot of complex factors involved.”

Cuomo’s demise gained momentum earlier this week, when documents released by New York Attorney General Letitia James after an investigation into the governor showed that Chris Cuomo played a larger role in his brother’s cover story than first believed.

The true nature of Chris Cuomo’s assistance was revealed in text messages obtained by James’s office. It showed Chris Cuomo stating that looked to use his media connections to help his brother.

Among other things, the documents released by James showed that Chris Cuomo leveraged his own media sources to gather information on potential new bombshells involving his brother. He then kept his brother’s team informed on what was about to be published and what was not.

Cuomo insisted in a deposition that he was not engaged in “opposition research” on his brother’s accusers. But another deposition transcript, with one of Andrew Cuomo’s advisers, pointed to one instance where Chris Cuomo forwarded a “purported set of documents concerning Charlotte Bennett from her time in college.” Bennett, a former executive assistant, came forward with allegations against Andrew Cuomo in a New York Times article on Feb. 27.

CNN and Zucker had stood by Cuomo in May, when it was first revealed that he participated in strategy session with his brother and his gubernatorial staff. Then, the network noted that Cuomo had not covered Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment scandal, but they acknowledged that 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 network said at the time.

Chris Cuomo acknowledged on the air that it was a mistake to take part in the staff calls to advise his brother.

Still, Cuomo’s involvement as an adviser to his brother drew criticism within the network. Jake Tapper told The New York Times that Cuomo put the network in “a bad spot.” “I cannot imagine a world in which anybody in journalism thinks that that was appropriate,” Tapper said.

The first indication that Cuomo’s fate was unclear came several hours after the text messages were released. The network issued a statement saying that they were reviewing them. The next day, the network said that they “shed new light on Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s defense. 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. 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.”

Michael Smerconish is scheduled to host the 9 PM ET slot next week under the title CNN Primetime. Cuomo’s exit will leave a big hole in the network’s schedule, at a time when all cable news outlets are grappling with a plunge in viewership following last year’s presidential election. Among the possible names to fill the slot is Tapper, whose afternoon show was expanded to two hours in January and he was made lead anchor for all D.C. events.

But the network also is facing the prospect of new owners, with Discovery’s combination WarnerMedia expected to close by the middle of next year. Recently, John Malone, whose Liberty Media is Discovery’s largest shareholder, told CNBC that he “would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with and, you know, actually have journalists which would be unique and refreshing. I think a coward’s way out would be to sell it or spin it off and then sell it, do it in some tax efficient way.”

Cuomo joined CNN from a long stint at ABC News in 2013. He served as host of its morning program, New Day, and in 2018 was given a primetime slot. The show turned into a solid performer for the network, although its main cable news rivals, Fox News’ Hannity and MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, have drawn larger total viewership.

Cuomo’s firing also is the latest shakeup in the cable news landscape. Maddow signed a new deal with NBCUniversal in August, but reportedly wants to scale back her weeknight schedule. Brian Williams, meanwhile, announced recently that he would depart the network, where he has hosted an 11 PM ET newscast since 2016. Williams has not said what he planned to do next.

Zucker’s memo to staffers is below:

December 4, 2021

You are all aware that earlier this week we made the decision to suspend Chris Cuomo while we evaluated some new information that came to light regarding his involvement in his brother’s defense. Today, I let Chris know that we are ending his employment at CNN. It goes without saying that these decisions are not easy, and there are a lot of complex factors involved. But, as always, it was important to me to be upfront with each of you.

Ted Johnson contributed to this report.

Below is the statement that we will be releasing publicly shortly.

STATEMENT FROM CNN

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. Despite the termination, we will investigate as appropriate.

Jeff

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