By Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman
Shortly after learning he was being charged a third time, former president Donald Trump had a private dinner with the top leadership at Fox News as they lobbied him to attend the first Republican presidential primary debate this month, three people familiar with the event said.
The dinner with Trump, Fox News president Jay Wallace, and the network’s CEO, Suzanne Scott, was held in a private dining room at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to two of the people familiar with the event. The dinner was scheduled before the indictment news.
Trump has been vocal about probably skipping the first debate, which Fox News is hosting with the Republican National Committee on August 23 in Milwaukee, as well as the second, planned for September at the Reagan Presidential Library in California.
But he has also made clear to several people in private conversations that he hasn’t closed the door on participating in the first one.
Despite Trump’s caustic attacks on Fox News over the past several days on his social media site, Truth Social, the two-hour dinner was described as cordial.
The Fox executives made a soft appeal for Trump to participate in the debate, two of the people familiar with the dinner said, telling the former president that he excels on the centre stage and that it presents an opportunity for him to show off his debate skills.
Several people who have tried pushing Trump to debate in recent weeks have argued that if he does not show up, he could be giving an opening to other candidates to perform well.
Trump told the Fox executives that he had not yet made a decision and would keep an open mind, the three people said. The Fox team requested the meeting. The dinner was supposed to have included another participant from the network – host Sean Hannity, who is friendly with Trump – but he was doing his 9pm show and couldn’t make it.
Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump, declined to comment on the dinner, saying, “I won’t discuss a private meeting”.
Irena Briganti, a spokesperson for Fox News, also declined to comment on the private dinner.
Trump has complained about Fox News for months, particularly for its coverage of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, the former president’s closest competitor in the Republican primary. Recently, Trump publicly attacked an interview that Fox News host Bret Baier conducted with DeSantis, describing it as too soft. He resurfaced that complaint about Baier at the dinner, two of the people said.
Baier, who will be co-hosting the Fox News debate with Martha MacCallum, did an interview with Trump in June that was widely viewed as contributing to Trump’s legal challenges, and which the former president later complained was “unfriendly” after initially saying he enjoyed it and that it was “fair”.
Trump has had numerous private conversations with a range of people – including his own advisers, Fox talent and major Republican donors – about whether he should attend the debate.
Trump has indicated to his associates that he would be foolish to risk appearing on the same stage as his lower-polling rivals and giving them a chance to “have a moment” by landing a shot on him, according to one of the people, who has discussed the debate with the former president.
Trump’s advisers have suggested to him and to others that he has nothing to gain from debating, but the former president has pointedly refused to rule out making a surprise appearance.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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