Jeff Zucker Resigns From CNN After Relationship With Top Executive

Chris Cuomo has fiercely contested the terms of his departure from CNN, which has refused to pay the anchor’s severance or honor the remainder of his current contract, saying he engaged in unethical conduct. Mr. Cuomo has retained the powerful Hollywood litigator Bryan Freedman.

In discussions with WarnerMedia lawyers, Mr. Cuomo’s legal team raised the subject of Mr. Zucker’s relationship with Ms. Gollust, according to two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Early last week, both Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust were asked about their relationship by lawyers from Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a law firm that WarnerMedia had retained to investigate Mr. Cuomo’s tenure at the network, according to two people briefed on internal deliberations.

Lawyers from Cravath were interviewing CNN officials broadly about Mr. Cuomo’s tenure and the events that led to his termination, in part because CNN executives believed the dispute could eventually lead to litigation, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss company business. Mr. Cuomo’s lawyers sent a letter asking CNN to preserve messages between Mr. Zucker, Ms. Gollust, Andrew Cuomo and Andrew Cuomo’s staff.

Among other matters, days before Mr. Cuomo’s firing, CNN had been informed of an accusation of sexual misconduct against the anchor by a former junior colleague at another network. Mr. Cuomo has denied the accusation.

WarnerMedia’s chief executive, Jason Kilar, spoke with Mr. Zucker after the interviews and informed the CNN president that he could not remain at the company, two people briefed on their discussion said. Mr. Zucker offered to stay on for a transition period as the network found a new leader, but Mr. Kilar rejected that suggestion, one of the people said.

A hands-on manager who whispers in anchors’ earpieces and calls into the control room at odd hours, Mr. Zucker had been absent from his usual editorial calls in recent days. But even some of his closest confidants had no idea that he was on the verge of an exit. In the CNN newsroom, where Mr. Zucker commands fierce loyalty, journalists and producers were left stunned.