Trump campaign says Commission on Presidential Debates ‘not impartial,’ amid talks of rules, format changes

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The Trump campaign on Thursday slammed the Commission on Public Debates as partisan after the organization suggested it could modify the rules and format for the remaining presidential debates between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien on Thursday, during a call with reporters, criticized the CPD as being biased, despite describing themselves on their website as a “private, nonpartisan, 501c3, independent organization.”

“It is not controlled by any political party or outside organization, and it does not endorse or support or oppose candidates, political candidates, or parties,” Stepien said, quoting the CPD’s website.

“Last time I checked, the definition of nonpartisan is one of being not biased or partisan, especially toward any particular candidate or particular political group,” Stepien said. “Those characterizations could not be further from the truth.”

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Stepien went on to criticize leadership of the CPD Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, quoting an interview he gave to Nantucket Magazine this summer.

“What I learned in 2016, which was an odd year, was that the American people are not necessarily going to vote for who they think is the smartest person,” Fahrenkopf said.

During the interview, he also said that “Trump has loyal followers and they’ll turn out” to vote.

“They did in the past, and I think they will again. But there’s so much dislike for this president,” Fahrenkopf said. “You’ve seen some of the polls ask, ‘Are you going to the polls to vote against Trump or for Biden?’ And more people say they’re going to vote against Trump—they really dislike him. So I think you’ll have a very large turnout.”

Stepien also criticized another co-chair Dorothy Ridings, a former DNC official, and Kenneth Wollack, the former president of the National Democratic Institute, and board member Jane Harman, saying that they have donated to Democrats over the years.

“This is America, everyone is free to support and vote for the candidate of their choosing,” Stepien said. “But an organization that is not nonpartisan, shouldn’t pretend to be.”

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“Joe Biden is a creature of this city. He’s been cozying up to the city’s wheelers and dealers, and lo and behold, that’s exactly who runs this commission,” Stepien said. “The Democrats who serve in the leadership of the CPD are clearly supporters of Joe Biden, they endorse Democrats, they donate to Democrats.”

The campaign’s comments come amid a back-and-forth between the commission and both the Trump and Biden campaigns.

The commission on Wednesday said they are considering adding “additional structure” to the format, after Tuesday night’s debate in Cleveland, Ohio, included repeated interruptions and both candidates hurling charges and insults at each other.

“The Commission on Presidential Debates sponsors televised debates for the benefit of the American electorate,” the CPD said in a statement Wednesday. “Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”

The commission added that it will be “carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.”

Sources close to the negotiations between the commission and the campaigns told Fox News that the Biden campaign’s debate negotiator, Brady Williamson, specifically requested a “mute button” be allowed for the next presidential debates.

One source said that Williamson’s request was made Wednesday morning, just hours after the first showdown. The source said that the request was made in front of at least two dozen witnesses.

Shortly after the meeting, the source said, the commission released a statement, saying that they are now “carefully considering” changes to the format of the remaining debates. The CPD is sponsoring two more debates for Trump and Biden, one on Oct. 15 in Miami, Fla., and one on Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tenn. A vice presidential debate is set for Oct. 7.

Trump deputy campaign manager for presidential operations Max Miller, who has been the lead negotiator for the president’s team, also said Thursday that in addition to suggesting a “mute button,” Williamson — on behalf of the Biden campaign –suggested to the commission that the candidates be required to deliver opening and closing statements, and cut down open discussion time during the debate.

But Williamson, in a short phone interview with Fox News Tuesday, denied that he made the request.

“It is probably a rumor, but it is not true,” Williamson told Fox News.

When asked if he suggested a mute button in a joking way, Williamson said: “No.”

But the Trump campaign, on Thursday, fired back, saying that the campaign “can’t deny” the request was made.

“The Biden campaign knows their guy had a lousy performance and so now they’re running to the commission to try to get the rules changed,” Trump campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh told Fox News. “They can’t deny it because the request was made by their lead negotiator in front of plenty of witnesses.”

Murtaugh added: “They really should ask for a mute button for Joe Biden because he’s really the biggest threat to himself.”

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Meanwhile, the Biden campaign also denied that Williamson requested a mute button while taking aim at the Trump campaign and the president.

“There is as much truth to this as the other weak lies the Trump campaign told in advance of the first debate–before Donald Trump exposed his own record on the pandemic as a failure, told the violent White supremacists to ‘stand by,’ and cratered,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told Fox News.

To mock the Trump campaign, Bates said: “From a place of equivalent seriousness, we understand that the Trump campaign insisted Donald Trump be four inches taller for the next debate, and that he exclusively take questions from active 4Chan users–none of which could be about the coronavirus.”

According to a Fox News analysis, Trump interrupted Biden 71 times, moderator Chris Wallace 74 times for a total of 145 times. Biden, meanwhile, interrupted Trump 49 times and Wallace 18 times for a total of 67 times, according to the analysis.

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