Hillary Clinton appears to have largely weathered the onslaught of criticism about the Clinton Foundation and its cozy relationship with its donors. The same, however, can’t be said about George Stephanopoulos, the former Bill Clinton aide who is now ABC News’ high-profile chief anchor.
Stephanopoulos apologized Thursday for giving a total of $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation, and said that as a result of those donations he would not moderate the ABC News-sponsored GOP debate currently slated for next February. His announcement—made in an interview with Politico—came in response to calls from conservatives for him to sit out debate season following the public revelation about his donations (originally reported at $50,000). “It’s impossible to divorce yourself from that, even if you try,” Rand Paul told the New York Times. “I just think it’s really, really hard because he’s been there, so close to them, that there would be a conflict of interest if he tried to be a moderator of any sort.”
The anchor said that he gave the cash for “the best of reasons,” but conceded doing so was a mistake given his professional role. “At the time I did not perceive the problem, but in retrospect, as much as I support the very good work that’s been done by the foundation, I should have gone above and beyond any guidelines to make sure that there wouldn’t be any appearance of any conflict,” Stephanopoulos said.
ABC News brass is standing firmly behind Stephanopoulos, although the network did concede that he should have notified his bosses and viewers about his conflict of interest. While Stephanopoulos won’t moderate the GOP debate, he says he has no plans to stay on the sidelines during the rest of the presidential campaign—a decision that will give Republican hopefuls an easy way to change the subject if Stephanopoulos goes after them with aggressive reporting.
Stephanopoulos’ prominent role as a political journalist has long been a touchy subject between non-Clinton presidential campaigns and ABC, but that tension is likely to grow substantially as the 2016 campaign continues to become more and more about all things Hillary Clinton.
The journalist’s failure to disclose his hefty donations to the Clinton Foundation is particularly noteworthy given his aggressive questioning of Peter Schweizer, the conservative author behind Clinton Cash, which made the foundation front-page news in recent weeks. During an April interview on This Week, Stephanopoulos suggested Schweizer’s work for President George W. Bush was an indication of the author’s “partisan interests.” That was certainly a fair point—pointing out Schweizer’s conservative resume and many correction-requiring journalistic mistakes provides much-needed context for viewers—but it rang hollow given the ABC anchor made no mention of his own history in the Clinton administration, let alone his donations to the Clinton Foundation.