Chris Cuomo Played Outsize Role in Andrew Cuomo’s Defense

Chris Cuomo, the CNN host, participated in strategy discussions and shared a tip on at least one woman who had accused his brother, Andrew Cuomo, of sexual harassment.,

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Thousands of pages of new evidence and sworn testimony released on Monday show the extent to which former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo relied on a group of allies, including his younger brother, the CNN host Chris Cuomo, to strategize how to deflect and survive a cascade of sexual harassment charges that eventually engulfed him.

Beginning last December with the first public accusation by a former aide, Lindsey Boylan, the records lay out in unvarnished detail how the tight-knit group of advisers discussed a series of increasingly drastic steps to manipulate the press, discredit his accusers and retain a grip on power that became less and less tenable.

After debating the legality of the move, they agreed to pass Ms. Boylan’s personnel file to reporters, portraying her as politically motivated and unhinged. They sought — and failed — to rally dozens of former female aides and supporters to pen an op-ed defending him.

Chris Cuomo pressed to take on a greater role in crafting his brother’s defense, including phoning into strategy calls and using his media contacts to keep tabs on reporters pursuing stories about the governor. At one point, he even ran down a secondhand tip that another woman accusing the governor of unwanted advances at a wedding was lying. (She was not.)

“You need to trust me,” Chris Cuomo pleaded with Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s secretary, at one point in March, arguing that she should rely on him and other outside advisers like the political consultant Lis Smith and the pollster Jefrey Pollock.

He added: “We are making mistakes we can’t afford.”

CNN said on Monday that the investigative documents “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 company said in a statement.

The previously unseen materials, including video of the former governor answering questions under oath, were produced earlier this year by investigators working for Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, and undergirded the damning report she released in August that ultimately led to Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.

Ms. James had already released transcripts of an 11-hour interview with Mr. Cuomo and interviews with 10 women who had accused him of a range of misconduct.

In a statement after Monday’s release, Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the former governor, accused Ms. James, who is now running for governor, of acting out of political malice toward Mr. Cuomo — a stance that he and the former governor’s lawyers have repeatedly taken in the months since the report was issued in an attempt to undermine its conclusions.

“To the surprise of no one, Tish James continues abusing her government power to leverage her political future — prosecutorial misconduct, ethics and integrity be damned,” Mr. Azzopardi said. “Today’s manipulated release of handpicked witness testimony with selective redactions is typical.”

The newly released records included copies of text and email messages, as well as transcripts of depositions with many of Mr. Cuomo’s closest aides, including Ms. DeRosa, as well as current and former legal counselors like Steven M. Cohen, Alphonso David and Jill DesRosiers.

Replete with stories of screaming matches, cursing and deep mistrust, they collectively paint a portrait of the kind of toxic work culture that many of those testifying before the attorney general’s team were trying to undercut as they fought to maintain their boss’s job and their own.

“I trust no one,” Ms. DeRosa told many of her closest confidants in a text exchange, by way of explaining why she — and not an assistant — was sharing call-in details for a strategy call. In another message released by investigators, Ms. DeRosa describes berating two people, including one nicknamed “sponge” who was among Mr. Cuomo’s accusers.

“I’m on a real roll,” she said, adding: “In my defense, everyone sucks.”

In one instance, investigators asked Mr. Azzopardi to say whether or not the governor had ever pelted him with apricots in a fit of rage. He claimed the story, which was relayed in the testimony of another unnamed staff member, was false.

“Are you serious?” Mr. Azzopardi said. But he also testified: “He’s yelled at me. I’ve yelled back at him, but it was fine.”

When the governor’s fate was first thrown into doubt earlier this year amid mounting accusations, many of the group assembled in person at the Executive Mansion in Albany for a de facto war council despite the raging pandemic, Linda Lacewell, a former top aide, told investigators. Many of the attendees, including Mr. Pollock and Ms. Smith, ended up staying overnight, she said.

“I think as part of the human condition when you — when you feel like you’re in battle you turn to those you trust,” Mr. Azzopardi told investigators.

One of the people was clearly Chris Cuomo, who appears to have played a larger role than he has admitted to or has been previously known.

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Chris Cuomo pleaded with his brother’s team to allow him to “help with the prep” as the governor dealt with the first wave of accusations.Credit…Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CNN

“As the situation started to accelerate, my brother asked me to be in the loop,” Chris Cuomo told investigators in a six-hour interview last July. He said he saw himself as a “satellite” of his brother’s more formal advisers.

He insisted to investigators that he had never manipulated coverage or spun other journalists to benefit his brother. And he has told viewers of his show that he acted only as a brother to be a sounding board “to listen and to offer my take,” advising his brother to tell the truth, whatever it was, and eventually to resign.

But as a working journalist with a vast network of sources in and outside of media, Chris Cuomo proved to be more useful to those trying to help the governor cling to power, according to text messages, emails and testimony collected by investigators. He also argued strenuously against his brother resigning before a full investigation was conducted.

When Ms. DeRosa was trying to keep tabs in early March on journalists working to uncover stories of harassment, she turned to Chris Cuomo for “intel.”

“On it,” he wrote back after one such request. A few days later, Ms. DeRosa wrote to the governor’s brother that she had heard Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker was “getting ready to move” a story. “Can u check your sources?”

In text messages with Ms. DeRosa in March, Chris Cuomo said he was in a “panic” about how the governor’s team was handling the accusations and pleaded to “let me help with the prep” before drafting his own proposed statements for the governor to read, including one referencing “cancel culture.”

And he used his contacts to try to aid the defense in other ways. After The New York Times reported in early March that the governor had made an unwanted advance on a young woman at a wedding, Chris Cuomo had texted Ms. DeRosa to say, “I have a lead on the wedding girl,” who he believed had potentially been “put up to it” to hurt the governor.

The lead turned out to be bunk, he told investigators.

In a group text message with many of Andrew Cuomo’s top advisers, Ms. Smith took another approach at minimizing the impact of the article, relaying a call she placed to a reporter to warn that publishing would sully The Times’s reputation.

“I told him his story was pathetic and an embarrassment to the times and that I looked forward to reading it b/c it would further reduce their credibility on their issue and that i especially looked forward to mocking it and him on twitter,” she wrote.

In some cases, testimony by Mr. Cuomo’s aides and advisers suggested they had acted without the governor’s explicit approval or even his knowledge.

Mr. David, a former top legal adviser to the governor who had left to lead the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, said that he coordinated with Ms. DeRosa as she and others developed plans to release Ms. Boylan’s personnel file to undercut her claims.

Ms. DeRosa said she only relayed to Mr. Cuomo what they had done afterward. “Did you make sure that this was legal?” he asked, according to her testimony. She said, “Yes.”

In a matter of days after Ms. James’s report detailed what had happened, all three were out of a job. Ms. DeRosa resigned, followed by Mr. Cuomo. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy organization, eventually fired Mr. David for “violations of his contract” tied to his work advising Mr. Cuomo’s office.

John Koblin contributed reporting.

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