Bill Clinton+George Stephanopoulos

George Stephanopoulos, right, interviewing former President Bill Clinton last year for ABC’s “Good Morning America.” (Credit Heidi Gutman/ABC)

Politics
By Jeremy W. Peters and John Koblin
May 14, 2015

WASHINGTON — Even after more than a decade as an analyst, anchor and public face for ABC News, George Stephanopoulos has never been able to shake the image that many Republicans have of him: Clinton hatchet man.

That image was glaring to the Republican strategists who blocked him from moderating a debate last year in the Senate race in Iowa.

It was the elephant in the room in 2011 when, after an interview that Mitt Romney’s advisers saw as especially argumentative, Mr. Stephanopoulos visited the campaign’s headquarters to try to reassure them that he was impartial.

And it has nagged at the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, who has told people repeatedly that he does not want the anchorman anywhere near a debate stage in 2016.

On Thursday, the question of Mr. Stephanopoulos’s political leanings and his future as a leader of the network’s campaign coverage spilled out into the open as he acknowledged donating $75,000 to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation over the past three years. He withdrew from playing any role in a planned Republican primary debate on ABC and called his donations an “uncharacteristic lapse.”

“I’m sorry because I don’t want anything to compromise my integrity or the standards of ABC News,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything that would raise questions in the minds of our viewers. I’m sorry all of that has happened.”

But his disclosure of the contributions — made after the conservative Washington Free Beacon started asking ABC News questions — seemed only to deepen Republicans’ distrust in the most recognizable political journalist at the most-watched news network in the country.

Criticism from both party leaders and news media experts was more acute, because Mr. Stephanopoulos had just last month conducted an aggressive interview with Peter Schweizer, the author of a new book about the Clinton Foundation. During the interview, Mr. Stephanopoulos seemed to dismiss Mr. Schweizer’s reporting about conflicts of interest among donors to the charity who also had matters pending before the State Department. “We’ve done investigative work here at ABC News, found no proof of any kind of direct action,” he said.

Conservatives have a long list of grievances against Mr. Stephanopoulos dating back to when the American public first caught a glimpse of him as a scruffy caffeine-addicted and fiercely partisan strategist for Bill Clinton in “The War Room,” a documentary about the 1992 campaign.

Until now, though, allegations that he lacked journalistic objectivity had been mostly circumstantial — a badgering interview, a series of off-subject questions in a debate. As he reminds his detractors regularly, including on Thursday, his history shows that he is not shy about asking difficult questions of Democrats and Hillary Rodham Clinton, like the time he pressed her in a debate in 2008 about why most voters did not find her honest and trustworthy.

But with his acknowledgment that he had given a significant sum to the Clinton Foundation, he found himself facing accusations that he was effectively trying to buy favor with his former employers as Mrs. Clinton seeks the presidency for a second time.

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