Time’s Up, the women’s organization started by Hollywood A-listers that has recently been shrouded in controversy, reportedly decided against publicly supporting the first accuser of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
According to a new report by the Washington Post, leaders within Time’s Up worked closely with Cuomo’s office when his first sexual harassment accuser, Lindsey Boylan, came forward.
The exposé goes into great detail, providing alleged text messages from December 2020, when the Cuomo accusations first hit, between the organization’s leaders, including embattled president and CEO Tina Tchen, who reportedly told her staff to “stand down” on releasing a public statement in support of Boylan.
Variety has not authorized the validity of the text messages printed in the Washington Post’s report. Time’s Up did not respond to Variety‘s requests for comment on Wednesday night.
However, the board of Time’s Up released a statement to the Post, stating the organization is committed “to an independent review of our past actions, our current work as well as developing the processes and improvements necessary for furthering our mission,” promising to make the results of the review public.
The Post’s story comes as Time’s Up and its leader Tchen — who previously held several jobs in the Obama White House, and was Michelle Obama’s chief of staff — have been in the midst of crisis.
The organization is currently in the process of interviewing outside consulting firms, Variety has learned, to conduct an internal assessment. The consultant is expected to be brought on as early as this week, though meetings and interviews are ongoing, according to sources.
Earlier this week, an emergency meeting was called at Time’s Up. Following the meeting, multiple sources told Variety that Tchen will remain in her position and there was a strong show of support for her, despite a series of missteps compromising the group and the bombshell report by the New York Attorney General, which found that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, and implicated Time’s Up in the handling of his allegations.
The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that the law firm of a Time’s Up founder, Roberta Kaplan, represents Melissa DeRosa, a former Cuomo aide who helped draft a letter smearing Boylan. The AG found that Kaplan had also spoken with DeRosa about a draft letter that would respond to Boylan’s accusations, which she read to Tchen at the time. The investigation described the letter as part of an “unlawful retaliation” against Boylan.
Following the report, Kaplan resigned, amid outcry from sexual assault survivors. Since Kaplan resigned, Tchen has said she does not recall the details of her conversation with Kaplan and was unaware that the letter was meant to be disparaging against any women.
When Boylan accused Cuomo, the former governor was being heralded by Hollywood for his leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, and was parading across TV outlets on a continuous victory lap. At the time, Cuomo’s name repeatedly came up as a possible future presidential candidate, and he was even awarded with an Emmy for his use of television as a medium to provide information to the public during the early days of the pandemic. (This week, the International TV Academy stripped him of his award, given the sexual harassment allegations.)
On Monday of this week, an internal meeting was called among Time’s Up board members, which followed a New York Times story this past weekend that revealed even more details about Kaplan working closely along DeRosa, alleging that she appeared to side with Cuomo’s office, instead of supporting one of his accusers.
In the meeting, insiders say that Tchen apologized to board members, and said she was never in direct communication with the governor. Tchen spoke with a forward-looking tone, according to people present at the meeting, who say that she had strong support and has no plans to resign. (Earlier this week, a spokesperson for Time’s Up confirmed to Variety that Tchen has no plans to resign.)
But still, while many survivors strongly support Tchen, some victims are fiercely calling for Tchen to be ousted from Time’s Up. In fact, following the Attorney General’s investigation, sexual assault survivors wrote an open letter, stating the organization has failed them.
With the Washington Post’s story, more damning details have been reported about Tchen.
According to the report, Tchen texted to some of her group’s leaders that she did not think it would be appropriate for Time’s Up to release a statement to press requesting comment regarding Boylan’s accusations. Specifically, Fox News was the outlet asking Time’s Up for comment at the time.
Board member Hilary Rosen, a vice chair of the communications firm SKDK, told the Post on Wednesday that she did not want “serious allegations of sexual harassment” to be politicized, stating that Fox News “had a reputation for doing just that.”
According to the Post’s report, Tchen wrote in one of her texts: “I agree wit [sic] hilary. The story is all over the place with this survivor.”
On Wednesday, Tchen told the Post, “I was referring to the fact that Lindsey’s story was all over the news. I was not saying I disbelieved Lindsey.”
Per the Post, in another text, Tchen reportedly texted the group about a potential media statement. “Just looked at statement and not sure I even like that on [sic] she deserves to be heard,” Tchen allegedly wrote in a text message. “She has been in the context she wants to be heard so no one is saying she shouldn’t but the way she is speaking in not wanting to talk further doesn’t mean she wants to be heard more. So I would say nothing right now.”
In another, she reportedly acknowledged that Kaplan was in communication with DeRosa. “Robbie is talking directly to Melissa now. Let’s stand down other efforts for now,” Tchen said in an alleged text message.
Tchen responded to the Post’s story on Wednesday, explaining that Time’s Up chose not to publicly provide a statement of support for Boylan when she came forward with accusations against the governor, but said the organization did ask Cuomo’s office to conduct an internal review of their workplace culture.
“We also suggested that the Governor’s office respond by doing a review of their workplace culture. Ultimately, we decided not to comment given our policy, but in so doing did not intend to silence Ms. Boylan or any survivor,” Tchen told the Post, in part. “I deeply regret that survivors, who have already endured a great deal, feel let down and betrayed. That was not my intention.”
Boylan has called for Tchen to step down, and her attorney told the Post that the organization needs to do better.
Though Time’s Up did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment tonight, earlier this week, Tchen provided a statement to Variety, promising that she will prioritize survivors and believes in her organization’s mission to do so.
“There are survivors in leadership, on our staff and in our community, representing different experiences and viewpoints, who are actively engaged in the conversation about how to best move forward,” Tchen told Variety exclusively on Monday, following the internal meeting. “We are grateful for their leadership in helping us prepare to move forward in a way that addresses the harm and centers the needs and leadership of the survivor communities we seek to serve. We know we haven’t done the best job of this in the past, but we are committed to ensuring that our process and the work that emerges from it is informed by survivors at every step.”