Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly has denied that her upcoming memoir suggests Donald Trump was tipped about specific contents of a question she planned to ask him during the first Republican primary debate last year.
Kelly’s response, in a tweet posted late Thursday, sought to clarify a passage noted by the New York Times in an advance review of the book, “Settle for More.” The review said Kelly wrote that Fox News executives told Trump that Kelly’s first question would be “very pointed” and directed at Trump.
Kelly’s tweet appeared aimed at countering the idea that Trump was given specifics about the question – which was about Trump’s history of making demeaning comments about women. The moment produced one of the most famous exchanges of the presidential campaign and plunged Kelly into a long-running, if one-sided, feud with the man who was elected president Tuesday.
Kelly tweeted: “For the record, my book ‘Settle for More’ does not suggest Trump had any debate Qs in advance, nor do I believe that he did.”
But if the question – or its general tone – was leaked prior to the debate, it would suggest Trump had time to prepare his response, giving him an advantage over his Republican rivals. It would also parallel the disclosure that Donna Brazile, then a CNN commentator and the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, leaked debate topics to Hillary Clinton’s campaign before Democratic debates.
Kelly’s book will be published next week, but the New York Times obtained an advance copy and described the sequence of events in a review.
Kelly also describes her tempestuous relationship with Trump and with ousted Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, according to the Times account.
Kelly apparently drew Trump’s wrath a week before the first primary debate in August 2015. A segment on her show, “The Kelly File,” had upset Trump enough that he refused to do a scheduled interview with her unless she phoned him personally.
She writes that he told her, “I almost unleashed my beautiful Twitter account against you, and I still may.”
The day before the debate, Kelly writes, Trump was upset again and called Fox executives to complain about her. He said he’d heard that her first question as co-moderator “was a very pointed question directed at him.”
In fact, Kelly’s first question at the Fox-sponsored debate was about Trump’s references to women as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
Kelly does not speculate in her book how Trump knew that her question would be directed to him, the Times said. But she writes, “Folks were starting to worry about Trump – his level of agitation did not match the circumstances. Yes, it was his first debate. But this was bizarre behavior, especially for a man who wanted the nuclear codes.”
Trump appeared to be rattled by Kelly’s question, a reaction that suggests he did not see it coming. His many months of criticism of Kelly thereafter further suggests he viewed the question as a betrayal.
The anecdote raises its own questions about who within Fox News was aware of Kelly’s debate planning and could have tipped Trump.
Kelly doesn’t make a specific allegation, but she does note that Ailes often responded to Trump’s complaints about Kelly by calling Kelly and asking, “Was I being fair to Trump? Was I being too hard on him?” She writes: “He felt the bar for skeptical Trump coverage should be higher.”
Following the first debate, Trump went public with his criticism of Kelly, calling her “overrated” and “a bimbo” on Twitter. He went on CNN and described her as having “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her whatever.” He boycotted a Fox-sponsored debate before the Iowa caucuses in January because Kelly was scheduled to be one of the moderators.
Ailes was forced out of Fox in July amid widespread allegations of sexual harassment, including by Kelly herself. He became an informal adviser to Trump’s campaign.
Kelly’s debate anecdote raises some questions about Kelly herself, such as why she never reported anything about this incident to her viewers during the campaign and waited until after Trump was elected to reveal it in a book. It also adds an additional element to Kelly’s contentious interview with Brazile last month in which Kelly repeatedly asked Brazile whether she had leaked debate questions to Clinton’s aides.
Fox News’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday.
Kelly also recounts in the book a bizarre episode surrounding the first primary debate, according to the Times. On the day of the event, a driver assigned to her kept offering her coffee, which she refused. She finally relented and drank the cup he handed her. Within 15 minutes, she became seriously ill and feared she wouldn’t be able to appear at the debate. She did, but kept a trash can under her desk just in case she had to vomit.
Kelly doesn’t say so directly, but she suggests she may have been poisoned, the Times said.