The transcripts released this week by New York Attorney General Letitia James' office have called into question the role played by CNN anchor Chris Cuomo in providing advice to his brother, Andrew Cuomo, and top aides as the administration became engulfed in scandal.
Chris Cuomo is now facing calls for his firing from his primetime job at the network, including from Charlotte Bennett, one of the women who have accused the former governor of sexual harassment.
CNN said late Tuesday that Chris was indefinitely suspended from the network and previously said they are reviewing the transcripts. Chris Cuomo himself is yet to address his role as part of a circle of informal advisors to Andrew Cuomo who were outside of government, but were nonetheless brought in for advice.
On the one hand, the exchanges between Chris Cuomo are not unlike those of a kitchen cabinet advisor used by presidents, governors and elected officials.
But documents, transcripts and video show Chris's role went beyond that of a brother providing support to a sibling during a difficult time — calling into question the power of the media when a powerful politician stands accused of wrongdoing. And for Americans already distrustful of the media, the efforts by Chris on behalf of Andrew can undermine faith in the role the press is supposed to play, political observers and media critics said this week.
Chris texted often with Melissa DeRosa, the top aide to Andrew, proposing language for statements to the press and how to shape media coverage amid the cascade of harassment allegations.
"I talked to Chris pretty regularly," DeRosa told investigators. "He was on some calls that we did and he advised on how to respond."
Chris Cuomo's approach to the controversies facing his brother would shift over time. Early on, he urged advisors to have his brother speak to the media about the controversies. Later, as calls for resignation began to pour in, Chris wanted Andrew to fight it out.
"As the situation evolved, the circumstances changed and when there was a big push for us to resign, he was ardently opposed to that," DeRosa said in her testimony.
In one exchange, Chris Cuomo tells DeRosa he will work his sources to determine when a potentially damaging story about his brother will be published, telling her he's "on it." In another, he's passing along information about Bennett, a former aide in the governor's office.
Bennett on Monday in a social media quote called on Chris Cuomo to be fired by CNN.
"CNN must act -- now," she wrote. "Anything short of firing Chris Cuomo reflects a network lacking both morals and backbone."
The nearest analogy for the unusual arrangement of powerful brothers advising one another is the relationship between John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, who would serve as his attorney general, said Syracuse University Political Science Professor Grant Reeher.
But Chris offering to call sources on behalf of his brother crossed a line, Reeher said.
"You're shifting from that into to actually drawing on your professional contacts in a way that are not supposed to be done with that kind of favoritism," he said.
At the same time, the episode provides fodders to critics of CNN and the media in a sharply polarized country where opinions of the press remain low among the public.
"It will give them a handy reason to pull out and say, here, this is your evidence CNN cannot be trusted to be impartial," Reeher said.
Reeher said Chris Cuomo could have taken a leave of absence from the network while he helped his brother.
"That would have been a possible avenue to pursue," he said. "He didn't go that route."