WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says opponent Hillary Clinton and other Democrats “are trying to rig” the fall debates by scheduling two of the events opposite NFL games. The football league has complained to him about the debate schedule in a letter, the billionaire says.
The NFL and the Commission on Presidential Debates on Saturday rejected both of Trump’s assertions.
A spokesman for the NFL said the football league didn’t send such a letter to Trump. The independent, nonpartisan commission said that no political party or campaign was consulted when the dates were selected last year.
In an interview for ABC’s Sunday show “This Week,” Trump was asked if he would accept the commission’s debate schedule. He replied: “Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t like. It’s against two NFL games. I got a letter from the NFL saying, ‘This is ridiculous. Why are the debates against’ — ’cause the NFL doesn’t wanna go against the debates. ‘Cause the debates are gonna be pretty massive, from what I understand, OK?”
Asked about Trump’s assertion, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy tweeted: “While we’d obviously wish the Debate Commission could find another night, we did not send a letter to Mr Trump.”
Following the NFL’s denial that a letter had been sent to Trump, a Trump aide said the Republican candidate “was made aware of the conflicting dates by a source close to the league.” The aide was not authorized to speak by name and requested anonymity.
Two of the three debates scheduled in September and October will be televised during NFL games. On Sept. 26, the night of the first debate, ESPN will carry the Monday night game featuring the Falcons vs. the Saints. On Oct. 9, the second debate will air opposite the Sunday night game featuring the Giants vs. the Packers on NBC.
“I don’t know how the dates were picked. I don’t know why those particular dates,” Trump told ABC.
The Democratic Party was criticized during the primary race for scheduling debates between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday nights and holiday weekends, times when viewership is low. The Sanders campaign suggested that was an effort to limit the size of the audience.
Trump told ABC: “You know, Hillary Clinton wants to be against the NFL. She doesn’t — maybe like she did with Bernie Sanders, where they were on Saturday nights when nobody’s home.”
On Saturday, he tweeted: “As usual, Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig the debates so 2 are up against major NFL games. Same as last time w/ Bernie. Unacceptable!”
The presidential debate commission serves as the event sponsor and sets the participation criteria, dates, sites and formats. The sites and dates for the 2016 debates were announced in September 2015.
“The CPD did not consult with any political parties or campaigns in making these decisions,” the commission said in a statement issued Saturday.
The Clinton campaign did not immediately comment on Trump’s assertions.
In the ABC interview, Trump did allow that three debates were “fine” and that he’d rather have three than one.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in Springfield, New Jersey, contributed to this report.