How Chris Cuomo fought to save his beleaguered brother

Sworn testimony and private messages show that Chris Cuomo went so far as to use 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 inquiry into former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo show his younger brother, CNN presenter Chris Cuomo, played a major role in shaping the governor’s response Democrat to the sexual harassment scandal which ended in a resignation.

Sworn testimony and private messages, released Monday by the state attorney general’s office, Tish James, show that Chris Cuomo went so far as to use 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 his entourage as the governor fervently fought to survive the allegations. The documents suggest the TV presenter was more involved in advising his brother than before, going so far as to implore senior advisers and advisers to let him help shape their strategy.

The young Cuomo insisted he did it out of family devotion to his older brother and fended off critics who said he crossed ethical boundaries to do so while continuing his work as the l one of the country’s most recognizable cable news hosts.

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

The presenter called his criticism “media noise” and said the questions raised about his conduct were “not legitimate”.

At times, Farrow seemed to be fixated on people in the former governor’s orbit, with some worrying that the reporter – a Pulitzer Prize winner whose stories revealed allegations of sexual harassment against major public figures – learned from his sources.

“The concern was that Ronan would always have more people. You know, I mean, part of his motto as a journalist is that people come to him to broaden their understanding, ”said Chris Cuomo.

Young Cuomo told investigators he never attempted to contact Farrow directly, but instead contacted a third party to get details of what he was working on. He said he did not specifically inform CNN of the efforts, testifying that asking a reporter for information on ongoing reporting was “completely normal” and that he had neither the intention nor the desire to bypass the governor’s cover.

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

A CNN spokesperson said the documents released by the attorney general’s office “deserve close scrutiny and scrutiny.”

“We will have conversations and seek further clarification on their importance to CNN over the next few days,” the network said in a statement.

The testimony, given in mid-July to investigators investigating the elder Cuomo, provided much more detail about Chris Cuomo’s level of involvement in the saga than was known to the public.

He was in regular communication with Andrew Cuomo’s top staff, Melissa DeRosa, and participated in numerous conference calls and email channels in which participants wrote official statements and strategies to respond to the existential crisis. .

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

In one exchange, he even asked DeRosa to delete a text exchange he was having with her. Chris Cuomo told investigators he made the request because he feared the messages would be misinterpreted out of context. He also said he regularly deleted texts and emails he received, out of fear of potentially being hacked or exposing sources.

Cuomo also offered possible information to the governor’s team about the identity of a woman – Anna Ruch – who accused Andrew Cuomo of inappropriately grabbing her and attempting to kiss her during the a wedding in 2019.

“I have a lead on the wedding girl,” young Cuomo wrote to DeRosa.

The CNN presenter told investigators the information came from a friend of his who contacted him, fearing the woman had “been brought up to speed” to harm the governor.

Chris Cuomo initially declined to tell investigators who passed on the information, calling the person “a source” before disclosing his name after conceding that he was not a journalistic source. (The name is redacted from the published transcript.)

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

At times, Chris Cuomo seemed to downplay his involvement in his brother’s response to the scandal, testifying that he had not paid close attention to some of the threads he was copied from or that he was not participating in any others.

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

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

Young Cuomo also distanced himself from any suggestion that he helped with “oppo searches” or attempted to smear the governor’s accusers, although he tried to distinguish these unsavory tactics with the leaked personal file of a former staff member – a decision he testified he had not played any part of.

Chris Cuomo, however, testified that he was in communication with his brother “at every inflection point” and that he would play a role in shaping the language of sensitive public statements issued by the governor or his office. He also questioned other high-level advisers about language choices or the exclusion of certain phrases that he said would have benefited his brother.

“My focus is on my brother, trying to help him, with my head and heart, in any way I can, and trying to isolate my family from that in terms of animosity and toxicity.” , did he declare.

There were other points where Chris Cuomo said he couldn’t recall specific details, which he partially attributed to the lingering effects of a serious fight with Covid-19 last year and the wave of activity at the time.

He has often described himself as offering a unique perspective, given his closeness to his brother and his experience in the national media. He said he urged Andrew Cuomo and the governor’s advisers to go public with the truth and allow the process to unfold rather than targeting the accusers.

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

“I think the cancellation culture is real,” said Chris Cuomo. “My brother too. And I told him that you can’t ignore them, that it’s not going to go away; neither in our society, nor in our media culture, nor in your party.

He said the former governor largely agreed with his characterization of the phenomenon, but Andrew Cuomo felt distinguished for other reasons as well.

“It’s specific to him and politics, and it’s a whole string theory of people coming for him, head to toe, nut soup,” Cuomo said.

The discussion of the cancellation culture also turned into a strange tangent involving Alec Baldwin, after investigators asked Chris Cuomo if DeRosa shared a Daily Mail article about the actor speaking out on the matter.

Young Cuomo said he had a mutual friend who urged Baldwin to talk about the cancellation culture and told him about it, although the reporter didn’t think it would be particularly beneficial for his brother.

“I was not in favor of this happening because I did not think that Alec Baldwin in any way was necessarily helpful or respectful of the situation,” he said. “And I was trying to help my brother, and it didn’t seem very helpful to me. “

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