Emails newly obtained via New York’s Freedom of Information Law shed light on the intimate involvement of Chris Cuomo, the disgraced former CNN personality, in responding to public-relations crises surrounding his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned last year after several women said he had sexually harassed them.
At one point the emails show Chris Cuomo and the governor's top aide, Melissa DeRosa, working alone on a draft of a statement the governor would give responding to harassment allegations. They also show Chris Cuomo discussing how best to attack reporting by the New York Times that revealed the nursing-home COVID-19 death toll was far higher than the governor had said.
Andrew Cuomo has reemerged recently, with his campaign accounts paying to air bizarre advertisements on television that paint him as a victim and falsely imply that he’s been vindicated. (A truck asking New Yorkers to “Remember who got you through the worst days of COVID” was also observed in Manhattan last week.) This past weekend, he claimed to be a victim in a speech given at a Brooklyn church, in which he said that his brother was fired by CNN because it was “afraid of the cancel-culture mob.”
Dating back to at least 2013, observers have wondered why CNN repeatedly allowed Chris Cuomo to interview his brother on his show. They wondered more intensely after Chris Cuomo gave Andrew time on his national show to talk about how great New York's response to COVID was. Last November, CNN suspended Chris Cuomo after New York Attorney General Letitia James released documents related to an investigation into Andrew Cuomo that showed he wasn’t just airing his brother’s propaganda but was actively creating it (something that had been publicly known for months, and which CNN was OK with until it wasn’t). The network subsequently fired Chris Cuomo after a lawyer for one of his former colleagues raised allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
The emails show in detail just how intimately Chris Cuomo was involved in crafting political messaging pushing back against Charlotte Bennett, a former Andrew Cuomo aide who said the governor sexually harassed her. They also show him strategizing about how the governor should respond to the scandal over the Cuomo administration’s efforts to cover up how many New Yorkers in nursing homes were dying of COVID.
The emails were obtained by a New York Post reporter who requested them from the governor’s office using Muckrock, an open-source journalism platform, in a way that made them public. A spokesperson for Chris Cuomo declined to comment.
The first significant emails in the cache date to the height of the first wave of the pandemic. On April 17, 2020, DeRosa, Andrew Cuomo’s top aide—who could not be reached for comment—forwarded an email to Chris Cuomo, who at the time was recovering from COVID-19, that she had received from someone claiming to speak for the head of the New York Blood Center. This person offered a convalescent plasma treatment, essentially a blood transfusion from someone who had had COVID. At the time, this was a novel treatment ordinary people would have struggled to obtain, like the COVID tests the family was able to obtain at a time when testing availability was sporadic. The person offered it to the whole Cuomo family.
“Sounds spooky,” Chris Cuomo wrote. “I don’t want to try something that extreme when I Am not dying.”
("This outreach was part of a larger effort to get the new treatment to sick patients and spread the word about the need for recovered patients to donate plasma," New York Blood Center’s chief medical officer, Bruce Sachais, told Motherboard.)
The emails pick back up a year later, showing Chris Cuomo’s deep involvement in his brother’s crisis-response operation, especially the parts of it dealing with allegations of sexual harassment. He rarely replied to emails (one person intimately familiar with his public-relations work for the governor was astonished to learn he had actually committed anything to writing) but was copied on a variety of sensitive emails covering information the governor’s aides had been given by reporters and drafts of statements to be issued by the governor and DeRosa. At times, he appeared to be editing these, and at other times he offered his advice on strategy.
On Feb. 27, 2021, DeRosa forwarded Chris Cuomo a set of “privileged and confidential” notes that Andrew Cuomo flack Peter Ajemian—currently at Apple—had sent to her. The notes detailed a conversation that Ajemian and Beth Garvey, the governor’s lawyer, had had with a New York Times reporter ahead of the publication of the story in which Bennett came forward to accuse Andrew Cuomo of sexually harassing her.
Later that day, DeRosa sent Smith and Chris Cuomo, under the subject line “calling,” a draft of a statement that she proposed the governor could give. After that, she sent a draft of a statement under the subject line “priv - current draft from beth - pls review” to, among others, Chris Cuomo—apparently giving the CNN personality and governor’s brother review power over a statement drafted by the governor’s lawyer. After that, Chris Cuomo was on a list of recipients as flack Jefrey Pollock expressed approval of the statement. (“I’m okay with this,” he wrote.)
The next day, Feb. 28, DeRosa sent to Chris Cuomo—and him alone—a draft of the statement under the subject line “RE: statement final.” Five minutes later, he emailed her and a number of other people a different, shorter version. (The changes in this version were not incorporated into the final version of the statement posted on the governor’s website.)
On March 1, DeRosa sent a version of a statement denouncing rumors—on which the New York Post would later report—that she had been intimate with Andrew Cuomo as “misogynistic” to Pollock and Chris Cuomo under the subject line “Is everyone ok with this?” Later that same day, DeRosa sent a draft of her statement to Ajemian, Chris Cuomo, Pollock, and senior adviser Rich Azzopardi under the subject line “final final.”
Three days later, on March 4, 2021, DeRosa forwarded a statement on New York Times reporting on Andrew Cuomo covering up the true death toll of COVID in New York nursing homes that had been issued by Garvey and a Department of Health spokesperson. She sent the statement to, among others, Chris Cuomo, Pollock, and Lis Smith, the infamous Democratic operative known for her work on Pete Buttigieg’s failed presidental campaign and as a behind-the-scenes Andrew Cuomo fixer.
Pollock and Smith, who are not known to have had any role in the nursing-home scandal, replied simply saying that the already-issued statement didn’t make any sense to them.
Chris Cuomo, though, offered unsolicited advice on how to attack the Times’ reporting:
For this to be effective the caps caption must may say something abt times being wrong or being misleading
Then say why
The. Say you werent given time to respond
Two days later, on March 6, 2021, DeRosa sent another draft of her statement denying rumors about her relationship to Andrew Cuomo to Ajemian, Azzopardi, Pollock, and Chris Cuomo. In response to a note from Azzopardi, Chris Cuomo wrote:
I need the basic facts on the upside for us to argue on these stories
Who can help?
(What he seems to have meant is that he didn’t understand what the point of engaging was at all.)
Four days after that, on March 10, 2021, Times reporter Luis Ferré-Sadurní reached out for comment ahead of a story that would be published two days later under the headline “For Some Women, Working for Cuomo Is the ‘Worst Place to Be.’” Pollock, responding to an email chain that included a number of Andrew Cuomo’s top advisers, wrote, “This is not a story of consequence… What could we re-use from what we’ve said before about tough place to work?”
Garvey, Andrew Cuomo’s lawyer, wrote “Agree–”
What Andrew Cuomo’s brother had to say about it was not reflected in the records obtained under FOIL, but two days later, with dozens of members of the New York Legislature having called on the governor to resign, Chris Cuomo was on an email chain reviewing a draft of a statement where the governor would refuse to do so.