MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) — Sen. Ted Cruz knowingly misstated CNN’s reporting during Saturday night’s Republican primary debate in an effort to evade responsibility for misleading statements his campaign made about Ben Carson.
Asked to address a message his campaign had sent to supporters suggesting that Carson was going to suspend his campaign after Iowa, Cruz blamed CNN and specific CNN anchors and reporters for why his campaign had been led to believe that Carson was dropping out.
“My political team saw CNN’s report breaking news and they forwarded that news to our volunteers, it was being covered on live television,” Cruz said during the debate.
In fact, CNN never reported nor implied that Carson was going to suspend his campaign, as Cruz’s campaign did. And the fact that Cruz reverted to this excuse during Saturday night’s debate was especially notable because Cruz had walked back his accusations against the network earlier this week and said, “CNN got it right.”
The controversy stems from a CNN scoop that was broadcast last Monday night, minutes before the Iowa caucuses began. Reporter Chris Moody received information from the Carson campaign that he would be taking a break from the campaign trail after Iowa.
Moody, and the other CNN reporters who followed up on the report, said Carson would continue campaigning after taking a break at home in Florida. His next stop, they said, would be Washington, D.C., for the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.
During CNN’s live coverage, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash called the move “very unusual,” but said nothing about Carson dropping out of the race.
Nevertheless, the Cruz campaign sent a message to supporters in Iowa suggesting that Carson might be suspending his campaign.
“The press is reporting that Dr. Ben Carson is taking time off from the campaign trail after Iowa and making a big announcement next week,” the Cruz campaign email read. “Please inform and Carson caucus goers of this news and urge them to caucus for Cruz.”
Shortly after the CNN report came out, Carson’s campaign downplayed the significance, saying the candidate needed a fresh set of clothes. Meanwhile, political analysts generally agreed with Tapper and Bash’s assessment that it was unusual for a presidential candidate to not rush to New Hampshire. Virtually all of Carson’s rivals hurried to New Hampshire after the caucuses.
The next morning, Carson’s side started lambasting Cruz for “dirty tricks.” This prompted a half-apology from Cruz that pointed a finger at CNN.
“Last night when our political team saw the CNN post saying Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina, our campaign updated the grassroots leaders just as we would with any breaking news story. That’s fair game,” Cruz said in a statement. “What the team should have done is send around the follow-up statement from the Carson campaign clarifying that he was indeed staying in the race when that came out. That was a mistake from our end, and for that I apologize to Dr. Carson.”
Essentially the Cruz campaign ignored the inconvenient part of CNN’s original report — that Carson was not dropping out of the race.
In fact, Moody said so explicitly on Twitter: “He plans to stay in the race beyond Iowa no matter what the results are tonight.”
In a statement on Wednesday night, CNN said, “Senator Cruz’s claims about CNN are false. At no point did the network indicate Dr. Carson would suspend his campaign. Our correspondent reported the information provided to him by the Carson campaign. Dr. Carson’s staff informed CNN that he would return home to take a ‘deep breath’ before resuming his activities on the campaign trail. That information was reported accurately by CNN across TV and digital.”
CNN’s Brian Stelter contributed to this report.
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