ABC’s George Stephanopoulos issued an on-air apology Friday for failing to disclose $75,000 in donations he made to the Clinton Foundation, saying he should have gone the “extra mile” to avoid the appearance of a conflict as conservatives called into question his ability to fairly cover the upcoming presidential election cycle.
Mr. Stephanopoulos said on “Good Morning America” the donations were a matter of public record but that he should have made additional on-air disclosures when covering the foundation and that he now believes the donations were a “mistake,” even though they were to support work being done to stop the spread of AIDS, help children, and protect the environment in poor countries.
“I should have gone the extra mile to avoid even the appearance of a conflict. I apologize to all of you for failing to do that,” said Mr. Stephanopoulos, formerly a top aide to former President Bill Clinton.
ABC said in a statement Thursday that it stands behind Mr. Stephanopoulos and that he voluntarily removed himself as a moderator for ABC’s planned coverage of a GOP debate in February, according to The Associated Press.
But some Republicans are saying that might not be enough.
“I do think this is a concern, and I do think that he shouldn’t be presenting himself to the world as a neutral arbiter of the facts in the presidential election cycle for 2016,” Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, said Thursday on Fox News’ “Hannity” program. “I think it certainly has the potential to call into question ABC’s ability to be objective.”
Mr. Lee said he “ought to stay out, perhaps, of covering the 2016 presidential election cycle.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is the undisputed front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and her campaign has been forced to answer questions about foreign donations to the foundation while she was in office.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, called Mr. Stephanopoulos’s recent “This Week” interview of Peter Schweizer, the author of a recent book on foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, a “breach of journalistic etiquette” and said he already tries to avoid going on his show.
“For the last year or so, we haven’t gone on, particularly since it’s looked like a contest where I may be in the contest against Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Paul said on “Hannity.”
“We’ve made the decision that he’s too close to the Clintons to really give an objective interview, and I don’t mean that to be mean — it just is what it is,” Mr. Paul said. “I would say the same for myself — I don’t think I could separate myself and be an objective [voice] — I could be an opinion maker on TV, but I couldn’t be someone who is seen as an objective, you know, non-partial journalist, and I think that’s difficult because he spent so many years inside the Clinton operation and also now still appears to be within the consortium that is Clinton, Inc.”
Mr. Schweizer, for his part, says ABC could give him another opportunity to appear on a Sunday show to talk about the book.
“Going into that interview, I kind of assumed that the relationship with the Clintons was in the past, that he had made this transition into the media and it was a different chapter in his life,” he said on “Hannity.” “If this was any other political candidate and a reporter doing this, you can bet that there would be some serious consequences.”
Asked about NBC News’ Brian Williams, who was suspended in February for six months after admitting he had mistakenly told a story about coming under fire in Iraq, Mr. Schweizer said it’s an issue that goes to trust in the media.
“If you’re embellishing stories, obviously, that’s a trust issue, but this is a very, very important one, because you’re talking about interviewing an author who’s written a book that is critical and raises lots of questions about the Clinton Foundation,” he said. “You’re giving money to them and you don’t expose that and explain that to the public. … I mean, the argument that he thought it was public and people would know about it, you know, is ridiculous.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told Mr. Hannity that it’s certainly an issue, but that in his mind, Mr. Stephanopoulos was never going to moderate a 2016 GOP debate anyway.
“The issue for me, even more so than the donation, was the fact that he worked for Bill and Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Priebus said. “How can I, as chairman of the national party, have the former employee of the Clintons who’s running on the other side be the person on the stage deposing our candidates?”