CNN’s Chris Cuomo accused of sexually harassing former boss at ABC News

Chris Cuomo attends the 12th Annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute at American Museum of Natural History on December 9, 2018 in New York City. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for CNN/TNS)
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Nelson Oliveira New York Daily News (TNS)

NEW YORK Chris Cuomo’s former boss at ABC News accused the CNN anchor on Friday of sexually harassing her 16 years ago, saying he grabbed and squeezed her buttocks in front of her husband during a party in New York City.

Shelley Ross, who had previously served as Cuomo’s executive producer at “Primetime Live,” detailed the explosive allegations in a New York Times essay that includes an image of an email he later sent her apologizing for his behavior. The charges come just over a month after his older brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, stepped down amid his own sexual harassment accusations.

The younger Cuomo, who reportedly advised his brother during the scandal, allegedly groped Ross at a going-away party for one of their ABC colleagues on June 1, 2005.

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“I was at the party with my husband, who sat behind me on an ottoman sipping his Diet Coke as I spoke with work friends,” the veteran journalist said. “When Mr. Cuomo entered the Upper West Side bar, he walked toward me and greeted me with a strong bear hug while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze the cheek of my buttock.”

Ross said the alleged groper, with “a kind of cocky arrogance,” went on to say, “I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss.”

“No you can’t,” Ross said she told him as she pushed him off while stepping back to reveal her husband behind her.

Shortly after the couple left the party, Ross received an email from Chris Cuomo with the subject line, “now that i think of it… i am ashamed…”

The host of the nightly show “Cuomo Prime Time” told Ross at the time that his “hearty greeting” was the result of being glad to see her and that he could “empathize” with her husband not liking to see his wife “patted as such,” according to the email image included in her Times piece.

The email continues, “so pass along my apology to your very good and noble husband… and i apologize to you as well, for even putting you in such a position… next time i will remember the lesson, no matter how happy i am to see you…”

Ross never saw the encounter as “sexual in nature,” she wrote, but she described his alleged harassment as “a hostile act meant to diminish and belittle his female former boss in front of the staff.”

The 51-year-old news anchor responded to her allegations in a short statement to the Times.

“As Shelley acknowledges, our interaction was not sexual in nature,” he said. “It happened 16 years ago in a public setting when she was a top executive at ABC. I apologized to her then, and I meant it.”

The accusations put another spotlight on a powerful New York family whose reputation has been severely tarnished in recent months. The downfall began after 11 women, including former aides and advisers, accused the former governor of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. One of the accusers, former aide Brittany Commisso, claimed Andrew Cuomo reached under her blouse and groped her while at the Executive Mansion last year.

The scandal led to a five-month investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office, which found a pattern of inappropriate conduct that included unwanted advances, touching of “intimate body parts” without consent as well as a “toxic” work environment that enabled harassment to happen freely.

The three-term Democratic governor, who has since been replaced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, apologized to the women he “deeply offended” while insisting he never committed a crime and blaming the alleged misconduct on “generational and cultural shifts.”

Following his resignation last month, critics called on Chris Cuomo to step down after he was described as an official adviser during his brother’s handling of the sex scandal. The CNN anchor denied those reports, saying he was “a brother,” not an adviser.

“As you know, back in May when I was told to no longer communicate with my brother’s aides in any group meetings, I acknowledged it was a mistake,” he said on his Aug. 16 show. “I apologize to my colleagues and I stopped and I meant it was a unique situation being a brother to a politician and a scandal and being part of the media.”

He did not face any disciplinary action at CNN.

Ross, who also worked for NBC and CBS before joining a nonprofit organization in 2015, said she does not want Cuomo to lose his job over the 2005 incident. Instead, she said, she would like to see him publicly repent and agree on air to study the impact of sexism, gender bias and sexual harassment in the workplace. Ross suggested he host a series of live town hall meetings produced by women.

“Call it ‘The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo,’” she said, “and make this a watershed moment instead of another stain on the career of one more powerful male news anchor.

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