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Youngkin to skip marquee debate over moderator’s donation to Clinton Bush Haiti Fund

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, left, will not participate in the Virginia Bar Association debate against former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe. (Steve Helber/AP; Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP)

RICHMOND — Republican Glenn Youngkin will skip what is typically the premier debate of the Virginia governor's race, saying he objects to the moderator, PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff, because she once donated $250 to the Clinton Foundation's Haitian earthquake relief fund.

By refusing to square off with Democrat Terry McAuliffe at the Virginia Bar Association debate later this month, the political newcomer and former Carlyle Group executive is breaking with a 36-year tradition. Every aspiring Virginia governor has participated in the VBA debate since 1985.

Woodruff donated $250 in 2010 to the foundation’s Haitian earthquake relief program, at the time led by two former presidents — Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush. Its formal name was the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. Woodruff has moderated several VBA debates for governor and U.S. Senate in the years since.

McAuliffe is a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton and at one time served on the foundation’s board.

“It would . . . be a conflict of interest to have former Clinton Foundation board member Terry McAuliffe being ‘questioned’ by a Clinton Foundation donor,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said Monday in a statement, which also objected to debate rules that would have given Woodruff sole discretion to decide what questions to ask. Porter said Youngkin had sought assurances that she’d ask about the economy and jobs.

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NewsHour executive producer Sara Just called Youngkin’s objections to Woodruff “outrageous.”

“Judy’s donation to the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund was in response to bipartisan call by fmr prezs Clinton & George W. Bush in 2010 for relief for Haiti following devastating earthquake. Seeing it thru any other lens is completely misleading,” Just tweeted. “And it should go without saying, Judy — over the course of her distinguished career — has never donated to a politician or any political party.”

McAuliffe, a former governor seeking a second term, has agreed to participate in five debates. Youngkin has said he is willing to do up to three.

“Glenn Youngkin has spent his campaign embracing Donald Trump and trying to hide his true views from Virginia voters, so it’s no surprise he does not have the courage to face me at this debate and answer questions just as every Republican and Democratic nominee for governor has done since 1985,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

Woodruff’s donation drew attention in 2015, amid criticism that ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos had donated $75,000 to the foundation over the three previous years.

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At the time, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler called Woodruff’s donation “a mistake,” but Woodruff publicly pushed back: “I will not be put in a position of defending the Clinton Foundation,” she wrote then. “But in early January 2010, less than one year into President Obama’s first term, while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the tragedy hit and we were told by relief experts that the quickest way to get a contribution to the victims, was through the William J. Clinton Foundation. It had a long-standing involvement in Haiti before the quake. To repeat, my gift was made out to the Haiti Relief Fund, not the general Clinton Foundation.”