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CNN fired star primetime anchor Chris Cuomo on Saturday after the network said “new information” emerged on the extent of his involvement with his brother’s battle against sexual harassment allegations.
Cuomo is “livid” at his termination and in talks with lawyers, a person familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast.
“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,” Cuomo said in a statement immediately after the news broke.
The top-rated anchor’s termination came as a surprise to many. The network had announced his suspension just four days earlier, on Tuesday, and by Saturday the investigation had uncovered “additional information” and the Cuomo Prime Time host was swiftly kicked to the curb.
It was not immediately clear what new information prompted the decision. But The New York Times reports that CNN was made aware earlier this week of a sexual misconduct allegation against Chris Cuomo that was said to be “unrelated to the Gov. Andrew Cuomo matter.” The allegation reportedly came from a former junior colleague at a different network.
A spokesperson for Cuomo denied the allegation and questioned whether the claim is what led to his “unwarranted termination.”
But CNN, for its part, said the host’s fate at the network was sealed before the allegation came to light.
“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,” a CNN spokesperson said in a statement.
Documents released earlier this week as part of an investigation by New York’s attorney general painted a damning picture of the news anchor’s role in his brother’s defense strategy. Cuomo told his brother’s aides he would use his own sources to investigate then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s accusers, a major breach of journalistic ethics. What’s more, a law firm hired by the cable network found in an internal review that what Cuomo had disclosed to his employer did not match what emerged in the attorney general’s documents later, and CNN determined it had standing to can him, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The network issued 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. Despite the termination, we will investigate as appropriate.”
The law firm began its review of Cuomo’s on-air remarks versus what he told his employer mid-week and concluded it Friday, per a person familiar with the process, and CNN president Jeff Zucker informed Cuomo on Saturday that he would be fired.
“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,” Zucker wrote in an internal memo to staff.
Though Anderson Cooper has taken over the airtime previously occupied by Cuomo’s show on Tuesday night, CNN insiders suggest Jake Tapper is the front runner to take Cuomo’s 9 p.m. time slot. Tapper did not respond to a request for comment.
A source familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast the relationship between the cable network and the host became unsustainable for the long term, as it was problem after problem with Cuomo. In light of the falling out, Cuomo has retained public relations expert Ronn Torossian.
One CNN insider told The Daily Beast, “Finally. Chris was a toxic and distracting presence. The network did the right thing.”
Though Cuomo’s entanglement with his brother’s political career elicited calls for his firing when it first came to light, the cable network initially did not discipline him, calling his relationship with the governor a “unique position.”
The anchor helped draft his brother’s public statements and participated in strategy calls with the governor’s aides about how best to combat the mounting wave of pressure for Andrew to resign. Earlier this week, however, text messages released by the New York attorney general showed that Cuomo asked his brother’s top aide Melissa DeRosa, “Please let me help with the prep,” “we are making mistakes we can’t afford,” and demanding the governor’s staff “stop hiding s--t” from him.
Following a vacation “to go fishing” taken amid the scandal, Cuomo returned to the airwaves and claimed he “never misled anyone.” He did, however, apologize on air for his involvement in his brother’s fight, saying it “will never happen again” and he “knows where the line is.” Zucker said Cuomo was “a human” who had simply “made a mistake.”
Chris also texted DeRosa “I have a lead on the wedding girl” after allegations emerged that Andrew made unwanted advances on a woman at a wedding. Andrew stepped down in August.
—With additional reporting by Justin Baragona