GOP tells NBC next debate suspended over ‘gotcha’ questions

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Presidential candidates, from left, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul pose for a photo at the Republican presidential debate at University of Colorado's Coors Events Center on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — The Republican National Committee announced it will suspend its February debate with NBC News because of anger with CNBC’s handling of this week’s debate in Boulder.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus sent an open letter to NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack on Friday declaring that they are “suspending the partnership” because the CNBC debate had been conducted “in bad faith.”

“While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates,” Priebus wrote.

“What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas,” he wrote.

Priebus said that while he understood “NBC does not exercise full editorial control over CNBC’s journalistic approach… the network is an arm of your organization, and we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance.”

NBC said in a statement it “will work in good faith to resolve this matter.”

CNBC and NBC News are divisions of NBCUniversal, a media company owned by Comcast. They operate out of two different buildings and have different management teams, but they do collaborate on news gathering and reporting. As chairman of NBC News, Lack oversees NBC and MSNBC, but not CNBC.

NBC is scheduled to hold a GOP debate on Feb. 26 in Houston with Telemundo and National Review as partners. Priebus said the RNC would ensure that National Review remains part of the debate, but did not mention Telemundo.

“We still fully intend to have a debate on that day, and will ensure that National Review remains part of it,” Priebus wrote.

“This is a disappointing development,” NBC News said in a statement. “However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”

The letter from Priebus is a move to assert control over the debate process at a time when Republican campaigns seem poised to wrest control from the RNC’s hands.

On Thursday, representatives from several campaigns made plans to hold a Sunday meeting in Washington to discuss plans for wresting more control of the debates from the committee.

Though Priebus joined the candidates in expressing deep disappointment with CNBC’s handling of the debate, several campaigns fault him and the RNC for failing to ensure that the debates are conducted in a substantive, focused and non-biased manner.