George Stephanopoulos Bows Out of GOP Debate After Failing to Disclose Clinton Foundation Donations

George Stephanopoulos Change Maker Awards - H 2015
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George Stephanopoulos Change Maker Awards - H 2015

ABC News' chief anchor says he will no longer moderate the network's February primary debate.

George Stephanopoulos says he will no longer moderate the ABC News-sponsored Republican primary debate in February after failing to disclose that he donated money to the Clinton Foundation.

The ABC News chief anchor and former Bill Clinton staffer said he was bowing out of the New Hampshire debate, following pressure from Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul to do so.

"I won't moderate that debate," Stephanopoulos told Politico. "I think I've shown that I can moderate debates fairly. That said, I know there have been questions made about moderating debates this year. I want to be sure I don't deprive viewers of a good debate."

Stephanopoulos, who also serves as co-anchor of Good Morning America and ABC's Sunday morning news show This Week, apologized Thursday morning for not disclosing to viewers during news reports about the foundation that he gave the organization $75,000. While Stephanopoulos' contributions are public record, listed on the Clinton Foundation website, Stephanopoulos told Politico's On Media blog that he gave the foundation $25,000 a year in 2012, 2013 and 2014, creating the $75,000 total.

"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," Stephanopoulos said in a statement to the press. "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."

ABC News released an additional statement saying it's standing behind him. Still, the news has created controversy, with Paul telling the New York Times that Stephanopoulos shouldn't be allowed to moderate any debates during the 2016 presidential campaign. Furthermore, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah urged the former Clinton staffer to recuse himself from coverage of the 2016 campaign, with his office telling Politico that Lee was advised not to appear on This Week unless the host "recuses himself from all 2016 coverage." Stephanopoulos told Politico he wouldn't be doing that.

In his interview with Politico, Stephanopoulos apologized profusely for not disclosing his contributions, including during an interview last month with Peter Schweizer, whose book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich investigates donations made to the Clinton Foundation by foreign groups. Schweizer Thursday accused Stephanopoulos of a "massive breach of ethical standards," according to an email he sent to Bloomberg.

Stephanopoulos said, "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." He also told Politico that he now realizes he shouldn't have donated money to the Clinton Foundation but did so "for the best reasons."

ABC News does not intend to punish Stephanopoulos for not disclosing his contributions, Politico reported, adding that Stephanopoulos intends to address the issue on Sunday's This Week.

Stephanopoulos has close ties to the Clintons. Before joining ABC News, he was President Clinton's communications director and then senior adviser for policy and strategy. Prior to that, he served as Clinton's communications director on his 1992 campaign.