NEW YORK – ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos will not moderate a Republican presidential debate next winter, part of the fallout after revelations that the network’s top political anchor contributed $75,000 over a three-year period to the Clinton Foundation.
Stephanopoulos voluntarily stepped away from the Feb. 6 debate, ABC News spokeswoman Heather Riley said Thursday. It is one of nine debates sanctioned by the Republican National Committee.
The co-host of “Good Morning America” and host of the Sunday morning public affairs program “This Week” earlier had apologized for not disclosing his contributions to his employer and viewers.
The three donations of $25,000 each in 2012, 2013 and 2014 were made to the foundation set up by former President Bill Clinton because of the organization’s work on global AIDS prevention and deforestation, Stephanopoulos said.
The network news division said in a statement that “we stand behind him.”
Some Republicans have harbored long suspicions about Stephanopoulos because of his past life as a top aide to Clinton during his 1992 presidential campaign and in the White House afterward. Stephanopoulos joined ABC News in 1997, and Riley said the proof of his objectivity as a reporter “is in his work” over 18 years.
With Clinton’s wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, the issues have been revived for ABC News.
“No matter how hard Stephanopoulos tries to separate himself and be objective about the Clintons, his long history with the Clintons makes it impossible for him to be unbiased,” said Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican running for president.
“No matter how hard he tries.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican expected to run again, told reporters that Stephanopoulos shouldn’t be moderating Democratic debates. He wasn’t sure about the Republicans.
“Most of the media is not particularly friendly to our side so I don’t think that necessarily distinguishes him in that regard,” Santorum said.
The donations to the Clinton Foundation were first reported in Politico as $50,000. But in checking back in his records, Stephanopoulos found an additional $25,000 donation in 2012, Riley said.
Stephanopoulos has reported on Peter Schweizer’s book, “Clinton Cash,” which traces the public involvement of organizations that have donated to the Clinton Foundation. Stephanopoulos interviewed Schweizer on “This Week.”
A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee said the donation showed poor judgment and Stephanopoulos was right to admit his mistake. Allison Moore had no immediate comment on the decision to not have the ABC anchor moderate the GOP debate.
The news anchor said he believed his contributions were a matter of public record.
“However, in hindsight, I should have taken the extra step of personally disclosing my donations to my employer and to the viewers on the air during the recent news stories about the foundation,” he said. “I apologize.”
ABC News, in a statement, agreed that Stephanopoulos was wrong not to notify his bosses and viewers but called it an honest mistake.
Besides his regular work on the two programs, Stephanopoulos is ABC News’ chief anchor during major breaking stories and on election nights.