CBS directors fear legal risks from leaks in Moonves probe

Leslie Moonves, President and Chief Executive Officer, CBS Corporation Photo: Bill Inoshita/CBS ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Some CBS directors are concerned that recent leaks from the investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by the broadcaster’s former chief executive, Leslie Moonves, could result in legal exposure for the company or people found to have failed to prevent the disclosures, people familiar with the situation say.

At a board meeting Monday, CBS directors aired frustrations that details of the investigation have spilled into public view through articles in the New York Times, and they stepped up pressure on the law firms handling it, Covington & Burling LLP and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, one of the people said.

Some directors have called for a forensic investigation of the leaks, the person added.

The law firms were involved in the board meeting, and Mary Jo White, Debevoise’s lead attorney in the case, apologized to the board for the unplanned revelations, the person said. A Times article citing a draft version of the investigators’ report said it concluded that Mr. Moonves destroyed evidence and misled investigators, and said the board would have grounds to deny the executive $120 million in severance pay.

The legal concerns about the leaks stem from the fact that circulation of a draft report may have compromised the confidentiality promised to people who cooperated with investigators, the people familiar with the situation said.

CBS will hold its annual meeting Tuesday. The board, which includes several new members after an overhaul in September, is expected to hear the final findings of the probe soon. It isn’t clear if that will come in written form or an oral presentation.

Two women’s organizations, UltraViolet and NOW NY, are planning a protest outside the CBS shareholder meeting to demand that Mr. Moonves not be paid.

Mr. Moonves, who towered over the TV landscape as a successful CBS boss for more than a decade, was forced to resign in September amid allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted multiple women during his lengthy career as a Hollywood kingmaker.

He has denied having had nonconsensual sexual relations, and his lawyer has said he “cooperated extensively and fully with investigators.” If Mr. Moonves is denied severance by the CBS board, he can seek arbitration. The board is expected to decide Mr. Moonves’s fate by Jan. 31, though it could take action sooner.

Little headway has been made in a search for a permanent successor or successors to Mr. Moonves, people familiar with the matter said. Longtime CBS Operating Chief Joseph Ianniello has been acting CEO and is a candidate for the permanent role.

Besides Mr. Moonves, the investigation is also looking at the broader culture of CBS and, in particular, at CBS News. Last year, morning-show host Charlie Rose was forced out after the Washington Post reported on allegations that he engaged in inappropriate behavior toward women.

Earlier this year, the New Yorker reported on harassment allegations not only against Mr. Moonves but also “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager.

Mr. Fager denied any wrongdoing and was let go after sending a message to a CBS reporter covering the allegations that was interpreted as threatening.

Mr. Rose acknowledged to the Post behaving “insensitively” at times but added, “I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate.”

Write to Emily Glazer at and Joe Flint at