Debate commission member breaks 'strict vow of silence' to rip President Trump for accusing the group of favoring rival Joe Biden

Former US Senator John Danforth has violated a “strict vow of silence” observed by members of the Commission on Presidential Debates, blasting President Donald Trump for accusing the group of siding with his Democratic rival.

Danforth said he was driven to break the debate organizer’s rule against expressing personal feelings about the presidential campaign – meant to avoid any perception of bias – because “Trump and some of his ardent supporters have attacked the commission’s integrity.” Writing in a Washington Post op-ed that was published Tuesday evening, he said, “I feel compelled to respond.”

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Danforth, a Missouri Republican who has been a member of the debate commission since 1994, opined that Trump has attacked the group as part of a broader effort to undermine the validity of the election in case he loses. “We saw this strategy initially in his claims that mail-in ballots are the tools for massive election fraud,” Danforth said. “Now we see it as well in his assertion that the debates have been rigged by the commission to favor” Biden.

Earlier, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien criticized Fox News host Chris Wallace for being a “terrible and biased” moderator for the first presidential debate on September 29 and called the organizer “pathetic” for unilaterally ruling that the second debate, which was supposed to be held on October 15 before being canceled, would be done online rather than in-person. Stepien also accused the commission of shifting the focus of Thursday’s third and final debate away from foreign policy to avoid exposing Biden’s poor record on overseas matters.

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Trump’s campaign took issue, too, with the commission’s decision to mute microphones during parts of the last debate so each candidate gets two minutes of speaking time without his rival being able to interrupt in each of six topic blocks. The president’s campaign called the move another effort to “provide advantage to their favored candidate.”

Danforth admitted that he has been “highly critical” of Trump, but said, “The conclusion that any commission member would eschew fair play to push a partisan position is, to put it mildly, ironic. The same people who decline to extend the presumption of fairness to members of the commission rightly assert that Amy Coney Barrett will put aside her personal beliefs on the Supreme Court.”

The commission chose “highly professional and experienced” moderators, Danforth said, but it “could not have anticipated” that one of them, C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, would seek a Trump critic’s help in preparing for his debate and then “not own up to having done so.” He said the commission relied on Scully’s “sterling reputation for professionalism” and noted that the journalist had been attacked by Trump and his supporters.

Danforth said it’s fair to question the commission’s decisions, “but there’s an enormous difference between criticizing good faith efforts and accusing the commission of corrupt favoritism. The first is helpful for improving our work. The second destroys public confidence in the most basic treasure of democracy, the conduct of fair elections. The second paves the way to violence in the streets.”

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