Chris Cuomo’s bromance with Don Lemon appears to be completely over, taking an especially ugly turn Wednesday when the disgraced anchor threw his former CNN “brother” under the bus in an effort to extract $125 million from the network.
Cuomo demanded the nine-figure sum from CNN in an arbitration filing, claiming damages for breach of contract, lost wages, and what he alleged was an assassination of his character following an unceremonious December firing.
In the scorched-earth filing, first reported by Deadline, Cuomo and his lawyers devoted an entire section to lashing out at some of his former CNN colleagues. Under the headline “CNN’s Failure to Enforce Policy Against Other Employees,” Cuomo alleged that the network, under the leadership of ousted lovers Jeff Zucker and Allison Gollust, spared certain talent for ethical violations while firing a bazooka at Cuomo’s career for having helped dig up dirt on the women who accused his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, of sexual misconduct.
Among the talent Cuomo took aim at was Lemon, with whom he’d famously shared a close relationship—including Hamptons hangouts, Instagram selfies, a joint podcast, and a near-nightly exchange of “I love yous” during their on-air primetime handoffs.
“I love you, brother,” Lemon told Cuomo in August shortly before launching into a segment on the sexual-harassment allegations against Chris’ older brother. “I love you, D. Lemon,” Cuomo replied with a smile.
But Wednesday’s filing was nowhere near as warm. “As long as CNN’s ratings would not be hurt, Zucker and Gollust were more than willing to overlook major transgressions by CNN personalities such as Don Lemon and Jake Tapper, or even to engage in blatant misconduct themselves,” it alleged.
Cuomo specifically cited how, in November 2021, Empire actor Jussie Smollett testified that Lemon personally warned him that Chicago police didn’t believe his false accusations of a hate crime. Lemon’s consulting with the embattled actor constituted a “flagrant breach of journalistic ethics,” Cuomo’s team wrote.
“Intervening in the ongoing investigation by texting Smollett was an inexcusable breach of ethics,” the filing argued. “Yet CNN did nothing; Lemon was not disciplined in any way.”
Cuomo’s attempt to drag his one-time pal in order to extract a hefty payout from CNN is perhaps the final blow to a very public, affection-laden friendship. The pair’s nightly on-air “handoff” often generated social media chatter as the pair professed their love for each other and shared anecdotes about their vacations—ultimately leading to a 23-episode CNN podcast literally titled The Handoff and hosted by the two self-described “brothers.”
While Lemon has yet to publicly comment on his friend’s firing, he notably struck the first blow last month when he argued in a staff meeting after Zucker’s firing that Cuomo should not be paid any severance.
“Did you think about what message it sends to the journalists in this company and to the larger public, that someone can be found to break with those journalistic standards and then get paid handsomely for it?” Lemon grilled WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar during the New York chat, Insider reported. “And what is to stop the next person from possibly getting compensated for it, to spread rumors, or what have you to the press?"
Cuomo also took aim at several other former CNN colleagues allegedly breaching company ethics without punishment. His filing cited how The Lead host Jake Tapper privately suggested Republican congressional candidate Sean Parnell run in a “safer” district instead of against incumbent Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA). Tapper faced no internal inquiry and faced no repercussions for the action, Cuomo lamented of his former workmate.
Tapper, too, had taken a swipe at Cuomo, fretting in private that the former anchor effectively destroyed Zucker’s career by threatening the network following his own ouster. “An outside observer might say, ‘Well, it looks like Chris Cuomo succeeded,’” Tapper said in a D.C. staff meeting with Kilar. “He threatened Jeff. Jeff said we don’t negotiate with terrorists. And Chris blew the place up. How do we get past that perception that this is the bad guy winning?”
CNN, Lemon, and Tapper did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In the filing, Cuomo additionally referenced CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin’s scandal where he was caught masturbating during a Zoom meeting with New Yorker colleagues—an act Cuomo described as “a sordid act of sexual harassment” and one for which Toobin was never forced to issue a public apology. When reached by The Daily Beast on Wednesday, Toobin declined to comment.
“CNN allowed employees to retain their jobs for offenses much more egregious than anything CNN alleges Cuomo ever did,” Cuomo whined in his filing. “But because Cuomo was so strongly linked to Gov. Cuomo, whose political standing and corresponding value to CNN had turned dramatically, CNN falsely claimed that Cuomo violated its policies and practices as an excuse to terminate his contract. This is the epitome of hypocrisy, as there was no valid basis for terminating his contract.”