Updated throughout: George Stephanopoulos now says he should not have made the donations to the Clinton Foundation, and will not moderate ABC News’s GOP primary debate in February because he did not disclose those contributions.
This, in contrast to this morning’s statement in which he apologized for not having told his employer or his viewers that he gave what was originally reported to be $50K to the Clinton Foundation in 2013 and 2014, but is now reported as $75K in 2012, ’13 and ’14. Stephanopoulos, the news division’s chief political correspondent, host of its Sunday Beltway show This Week and co-anchor of Good Morning America, has spent about four times as much time working as a journalist than the years he put in as communications director and senior adviser to President Clinton and communications director on Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. But today’s news, first disclosed by Politico, mixed with that personal connection to the Clintons is making for a headache at ABC News today.
His defenders note the donations were made when neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton was in office and Hillary Clinton had not yet declared she was making a White House run in 2016. Detractors note Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State in 2012 and stepped down in early ’13, while adding that anyone who claims that in 2014 they did not know she was going to make a run for the White House in 2016 ought not to be covering politics for ABC News. Defenders also point out the amount of money represents less than 1% of Stephanopoulos’ gift giving to nonprofits over that period. Detractors note the dollar amount comes to about $25K each of the years cited, and half of the country makes less than $27K a year. Lots more where that came from today.
“I made charitable donations to the Foundation in support of the work they’re doing on global AIDS prevention and deforestation, causes I care about deeply,” Stephanopolous said today in his first statement this morning.”I thought that my 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 air during the recent news stories about the Foundation. I apologize.”
In a later damage control interview with the publication that broke the story, Stephanopoulos said the donations, made “for the best reasons,” should not have been given at all, he now realizes.
What this morning he called an “extra step” in his statement actually is an ABC News rule, we hear. ABC News policies allow employees to make charitable donations, but anyone who has made a personal donation to a charitable entity must disclose that donation to the news division before covering a story related to that organization.
ABC News this morning issued a statement saying it’s sticking by Stephanopoulos: “As George has said, he made charitable donations to the Foundation to support a cause he cares about deeply and believed his contributions were a matter of public record. He should have taken the extra step to notify us and our viewers during the recent news reports about the Foundation. He’s admitted to an honest mistake and apologized for that omission. We stand behind him.”
It’s unclear if the discovery will impact ABC’s ability to land interviews with other newsmakers during the upcoming presidential race. Stephanopoulos already has been something of a go-to guy for GOP White House hopefuls; he snagged exclusives on candidacy announcements of Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio, and Mike Huckabee gave Stephanopoulos his first interview after announcing his bid.
But, after news broke about the donations, reporters who cover politics began making the rounds and landed Sen. Mike Lee of Utah saying they would advise their guy not to appear on This Week unless its host recused himself from all 2016 election coverage. Sen. Rand Paul chimed in too, seconding that notion.
Hours after making his first statement, Stephanopoulos said he would stand down from moderating the one debate, but not recuse himself from the entire election cycle.