Kennedy Exclusion From CNN Debate Stage Is ‘Undemocratic, UnAmerican, and Cowardly’

WASHINGTON, DC—JUNE 20, 2024—CNN today announced the June 27 debate in Atlanta will be a head-to-head with Presidents Biden and Trump, excluding Kennedy from the stage. This decision is a clear violation of federal law.

“Presidents Biden and Trump do not want me on the debate stage and CNN illegally agreed to their demand,” said Independent Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. “My exclusion by Presidents Biden and Trump from the debate is undemocratic, un-American, and cowardly. Americans want an independent leader who will break apart the two-party duopoly. They want a President who will heal the divide, restore the middle class, unwind the war machine, and end the chronic disease epidemic.”

“If the American people could hear what all three candidates had to say about the critical issues facing our country, the choice between these three men would be clear,” said Former Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee. “Kennedy would become the 47th President of the United States.”

As previously reported, Kennedy filed an FEC complaint arguing CNN, Biden, and Trump flagrantly violated a federal law requirement that media broadcasters use “pre-established” and “objective” criteria to determine candidate participation. Failure to use objective criteria renders the debate a campaign contribution, subject to strict donation limits. 

CNN’s published debate criteria require that “a candidate's name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold.” CNN is holding Kennedy to this requirement but is not requiring Presidents Biden and Trump to meet this requirement by claiming they are each the “presumptive nominee” of a political party. 

CNN has persisted in this approach even after FEC made clear the phrase “presumptive nominee” is “not in the FEC’s debate regulation,” and therefore it cannot exempt CNN from the prohibition on excessive campaign contributions. As the Commission on Presidential Debates explains, “Until the conventions take place, we don’t know who the official nominees will be.” 

This means CNN, and every member of CNN who is participating in planning, executing, and holding this debate, is at risk of prosecution, as happened to Michael Cohen, for violating campaign finance laws. This risk is now acute given that any further violation would be knowing and willful, and thus could carry with it serious jail time. 

CNN and its staff are on clear notice, especially given the damning evidence that the Biden campaign has openly demanded Kennedy be excluded from the debates and Trump received assurances from CNN that Kennedy would be excluded. 

To come into compliance, CNN must apply its criteria objectively. Presidents Biden and Trump have not yet been nominated by their parties and their names are not certified to appear on a single state ballot. Kennedy, in contrast, has been certified to appear on the ballot of numerous states, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah.

Objectively applying CNN’s criteria requires, at a minimum, that it admit Kennedy into the debate as he is the candidate who is furthest along in complying with CNN’s debate criteria.

If the debate goes forward without Mr. Kennedy, the Kennedy campaign intends to pursue this issue for as long as it takes to obtain justice against these illegal acts, if for no other reason than to ensure this type of undemocratic and un-American conduct does not occur again in the future.

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