Habari Entertainment

News Our Way

‘Please let me help’: How Chris Cuomo fought to save his embattled brother





Chris Cuomo

Sworn testimony and private messages show Chris Cuomo went as far as using his own journalistic network to glean information on an article Ronan Farrow was reporting for The New Yorker. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

Newly released transcripts and documents in a state investigation of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo show his young brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, played a major role in shaping the Democratic governor’s response to the sexual harassment scandal that ended in resignation.

Sworn testimony and private messages, released Monday by the office of state Attorney General Tish James, show Chris Cuomo went as far as using his own journalistic network to glean information on an article Ronan Farrow was reporting for The New Yorker.

Chris Cuomo served as an informal adviser to his brother and several members of inner circle as the governor fervently battled to survive the allegations. The documents suggest the TV anchor was more involved in advising his brother than previously disclosed, going as far as to plead with top aides and advisers to let him help shape their strategy.

The younger Cuomo insisted he did so out of familial devotion to his older brother and brushed off critics who said he crossed ethical boundaries to do so while continuing his work as one of the nation’s most recognizable cable news hosts.

“How do I protect my family? How do I help protect him?,” Chris Cuomo told state investigators in sworn testimony on July 15. “[I] probably should have been thinking more about how I protect myself, which just never occurred to me.”

The anchor called criticism of him “media noise” and said the questions raised about his conduct were “not legitimate ones.”

At points, Farrow seemed to be a fixation for people in the former governor’s orbit, with some worrying about what the the journalist — a Pulitzer Prize winner whose stories have exposed sexual harassment allegations against major public figures — was learning from his sources.

“The concern was that Ronan always has more people. You know, I mean, that’s part of his currency as a journalist, is that people come to him to expand understandings,” Chris Cuomo testified.

The younger Cuomo told investigators he never attempted to contact Farrow directly, instead reaching out to a third-party for details about what he was working on. He said he did not specifically inform CNN about the efforts, testifying that asking a reporter for insight about ongoing reporting was “completely business-as-usual,” and that he had no intention or desire to contour the coverage of the governor.

“I wasn’t going to try to influence any of the stories,” he testified. “And we know that that’s true because you would have read about it had I. It’s not exactly a loyalty-based business.”

A spokesperson for CNN said the documents released by the Attorney General’s Office “deserve a thorough review and consideration.”

“We will be having conversations and seeking additional clarity about their significance as they relate to CNN over the next several days,” the network said in a statement.

The testimony, given mid-July to investigators probing the elder Cuomo, provided far greater detail about Chris Cuomo’s level of involvement in the saga than had been publicly known.

He was in regular communication with Andrew Cuomo’s top staffer, Melissa DeRosa, and was on numerous conference calls and email chains in which participants hashed out official statements and strategies to respond to the existential crisis.

“Please let me help with the prep,” Chris Cuomo texted DeRosa, then the secretary to the governor.

In one exchange, he even asked DeRosa to delete a text exchange he had with her. Chris Cuomo told investigators he made the request because he feared the messages could be misconstrued out of context. He also stated that he regularly deletes texts and emails he receives, out of a fear of potentially being hacked or exposing sources.

Cuomo also offered up possible information to the governor’s team on the identity of a woman — Anna Ruch — who accused Andrew Cuomo of grabbing her inappropriately and attempting to kiss her at a 2019 wedding.

“I have a lead on the wedding girl,” the younger Cuomo texted to DeRosa.

The CNN anchor told investigators that the information came from a friend of his who contacted him with concerns that the woman might have “been put up to it” to damage the governor.

Chris Cuomo initially declined to tell investigators who had conveyed this information, calling the person “a source” before divulging his name after conceding he was not a journalistic source. (The name is redacted from the released transcript.)

He also noted that a member of the governor’s staff who was part of the wedding backed up Ruch’s account.

At times, Chris Cuomo appeared to downplay his involvement in his brother’s response to the scandal, testifying that he did not pay close attention to some of the discussions he was copied on or that he was not a participant in others.

“I was most often a peripheral figure,” he said. “I’m the brother. Yes, I understand the media, but to be clear, everyone in that room understands the media.”

But others involved with the effort, including DeRosa and Democratic operative Lis Smith, told investigators in their own testimony that Chris Cuomo played a substantial role in how they managed the crisis.

The younger Cuomo also distanced himself from any insinuation that he assisted with “oppo research” or attempts to smear the governor’s accusers, though he tried to distinguish such unsavory tactics with the leaking of one former staffer’s personnel file — a decision he testified he played no part of.

Chris Cuomo did, however, testify that he was in communication with his brother “at every inflection point,” and he would play a role in crafting the language of sensitive public statements issued by the governor or his office. He would also question other top advisers about language choices or the exclusion of certain phrases he felt would have benefitted his brother.

“My scope of interest is in my brother, trying to help him, with my head and my heart, any way I can, and trying to insulate my family from this in terms of the animus and the toxicity of it,” he testified.

There were other points when Chris Cuomo said he could not recall specific details, which he partially chalked up to lingering effects from a serious bout with Covid-19 last year and the flurry of activity at the time.

He frequently depicted himself as offering a unique perspective, given his closeness with his brother and experience in national media. He testified that he urged Andrew Cuomo and the governor’s advisers to go public with the truth and allow the process to play out rather than target accusers.

However, in both his testimony and written exchanges, the younger Cuomo raised what he said was the pernicious specter of “cancel culture” at play.

“I think cancel culture is real,” Chris Cuomo testified. “So does my brother. And I advised him that you cannot ignore these, that it’s not going to go away; not in our society, not in our media culture, and not in your party.”

He testified that the former governor largely agreed with his characterization of the phenomena, but that Andrew Cuomo also feels singled out for other reasons.

“It’s specific to him and politics, and that this is an entire string theory of people coming out to get him, head to toe, soup to nuts,” Chris Cuomo said.

The discussion of cancel culture also pivoted to an odd tangent involving Alec Baldwin, after investigators asked Chris Cuomo about DeRosa sharing a Daily Mail article about the actor opining about the subject.

The younger Cuomo said that he had a mutual friend who urged Baldwin to speak out about cancel culture and told him about it, even though the newsman didn’t think it would be particularly beneficial to his brother.

“I wasn’t in favor of it happening because I didn’t think that Alec Baldwin weighing in on this one way or the other was necessarily helpful or respectful to the situation,” he testified. “And I was trying to help my brother, and it just didn’t seem that helpful to me.“

%d bloggers like this: