CNN suspends Chris Cuomo after receiving $500,000 grant paid for by firm behind Bill Clinton documentary

(CNN) — Chris Cuomo, CNN’s chief national correspondent, is on indefinite paid leave after the revelation that he was among four people who received a $500,000 pay check from the firm behind an $800,000 contract for a documentary about Bill Clinton.

A CNN spokesperson announced the on-air suspension in a statement: “Chris has been suspended indefinitely without pay while CNN investigates these allegations. This is a top priority for the network.”

The four people receiving the paychecks for the grant-funded documentary were identified as Cuomo; Philip DiStefano, CNN’s chief legal correspondent; WBUR news director David McGuire; and Robert Wine, an investigative journalist and co-author of the book “The Hunting Ground.” DiStefano and Wine reported on the case of Sandra Howell, who committed suicide in 2015 after allegedly enduring repeated sexual harassment and intimidation from former state Sen. John Wyland of Maine.

CNN reporter Poppy Harlow said Thursday that she raised concerns with the news organization’s editor general’s office about the payout when CNN learned that it had been approved by lawyers for Wyland. Harlow explained that she had “told [CNN] very directly” that the fact the network had handed out the grant money was “outrageous.”

“They were using all this money to pay us off,” Harlow said of the decision to give the money to other people. “On the face of it, that was embarrassing. And they never asked any questions.”

CNN said Thursday that an investigation would be launched into why the money was paid to other people, regardless of whether it was for legal work or investigatory work.

The network’s reporters were involved in reporting the story of Howell’s death, which occurred after she submitted to a sexual relationship with a state legislator.

The House speaker at the time, Mike Thibodeau, was charged with rape in connection with the allegations, but the charges were dropped.

CNN’s announcement about Cuomo comes after The New York Times reported Wednesday that Cuomo received a $500,000 check from the firm Bell Pottinger. Cuomo and DiStefano reportedly had been paid “without restriction” in addition to their CNN salaries.

The Times report said that Cuomo and DiStefano were responsible for devising the idea for the grant for a documentary about the death of Howell. The film was produced with the donation.

DiStefano said Thursday that he was not given a specific role and “always did what was asked.”

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