CNN host Chris Cuomo’s discussions with the staff of his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, allegedly over how to respond to sexual harassment allegations against the governor, were “inappropriate,” CNN said Thursday.
Chris Cuomo apologized for the contact with gubernatorial advisers later Thursday in the opening to his CNN program, “Cuomo Prime Time.”
The host of “Cuomo Primetime” has not been covering the sexual harassment accusations against his older brother on his primetime show because of the close family connection, but Thursday’s story revealed the anchor’s behind-the-scenes involvement with the governor and his staff.
CNN made that point in a statement about the news, criticizing Cuomo’s involvement with gubernatorial staff.
In the statement sent to USA TODAY, CNN said: “Chris has not been involved in CNN’s extensive coverage of the allegations against Governor Cuomo – on air or behind the scenes. 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 statement concluded.
CNN made no mention of any disciplinary action to be taken against the anchor.
On “Cuomo Prime Time,” the anchor said he would always informally advise his brother, as he has stated in the past, telling viewers, “I’m family first, job second.”
But “being a journalist and a brother to a politician is unique – and a unique challenge and I have a unique responsibility to balance those roles,” he said. “How I helped my brother also matters. When my brother’s situation became turbulent, being looped into calls with other friends of his and advisors that did include some of his staff – I understand why that was a problem for CNN. It will not happen again.”
Cuomo, who said he’s never tried to influence CNN coverage of his brother, continued: “It was a mistake because I put my colleagues here who I believe are the best in the business in a bad spot. I never intended for that. I would never intend for that. And I am sorry for that.”
The Post story, based on interviews with people with knowledge of the contact who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the younger Cuomo participated in conference calls with his brother, his communications team, his lawyers and other advisers.
The calls took place earlier this year after claims made by women that Andrew Cuomo had made inappropriate comments or touched them without permission. The governor was under intense pressure as many inside and outside of politics were calling for his resignation.
According to unnamed Post sources, Chris Cuomo, 50, advised his brother, who is 63, to take a defiant position and was against him resigning. He also allegedly used the phrase “cancel culture” as a reason to stay the course.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Andrew Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said“there were a few phone conversations, with friends and advisers giving the governor advice.”
Thursday’s news is just the latest controversy involving Chris Cuomo as a journalist and his connection to his office-holding brother.
From March to June 2020, when Andrew Cuomo was riding high in public opinion for his handling of the pandemic, he was a popular guest on Chris Cuomo’s show, with the two engaging in brotherly ribbing. Later, CNN reinstated a ban against Cuomo interviewing or doing stories about his brother, a situation that became especially noticeable when the New York governor’s administration was being questioned regarding failing to disclose the true number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.
The Washington Post and Albany Times-Union reported in March that Chris Cuomo was one of Andrew Cuomo’s family members who received special access to coronavirus testing last year. Chris Cuomo caught COVID in April 2020 and continued anchoring his primetime show from his basement.
Andrew Cuomo’s political future is uncertain as he faces criticism and investigations related to the sexual harassment allegations against him, the underreporting of COVID-19 nursing home deaths and the details of his $5 million book deal.
In response to the harassment claims, Cuomo in March apologized for making the women feel uncomfortable, but said he didn’t touch anyone inappropriately or make inappropriate advances. He said he would not resign.
Lindsey Boylan, a former staffer who publicly accused Cuomo of harassment, criticized Chris Cuomo in a retweet of The Post story Thursday, saying his behavior is a reason women don’t come forward with complaints.
“The job of the press is to hold people who abuse their power accountable. Chris Cuomo has the loudest microphone at the biggest news station in the country. Entire power systems are structured to protect men like Andrew Cuomo. This is example infinity of why women don’t come forward,” Boylan wrote.
Contributing: Associated Press; Joseph Spector; Jon Campbell, New York State Team