RNC warns networks: Drop Clinton movies or lose 2016 GOP debates

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus threatened to pull the group’s partnership with NBC and CNN for 2016 GOP presidential primary debates if the networks moved ahead with plans to air films on Hillary Clinton. [WATCH VIDEO]

“If they have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC’s Summer Meeting on August 14, I will seek a binding vote stating that the RNC will neither partner with these networks in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates they sponsor,” Preibus said in a statement.

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In individual letters to CNN President Jeff Zucker and NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt, Priebus called the documentaries “a thinly veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election.”

“This special treatment is unfair to the candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2016 who might compete against Secretary Clinton ... and to the Republican nominee should Clinton compete in the general election,” Preibus wrote.

The RNC chairman cited executives and employees from both networks who have been “generous supporters” of Clinton and the Democrats.

“This suggests a deliberate attempt at influencing American political opinion in favor of a preferred candidate,” Priebus wrote. “I find this disturbing and disappointing."

The chairman concluded that moving ahead with the movie projects was evidence that neither network could be trusted to be fair arbiters in a presidential debate.

CNN announced last month it had planned a feature-length film on the life of the former secretary of State and possible Democratic presidential contender. NBC will air a four-hour mini-series starring Diane Lane as Clinton.

NBC News said in a statement that it is completely independent from the Clinton documentary, which is being produced by NBC Entertainment.

"NBC News is completely independent of NBC Entertainment and has no involvement in this project," a spokesman told The Hill.

CNN said their Hillary Clinton documentary had been commissioned by CNN Films, a division of CNN Worldwide and would be a “non-fiction look at the life of a former First Lady and Secretary of State."

“Instead of making premature decisions about a project that is in the very early stages of development and months from completion, we would encourage the members of the Republican National Committee to reserve judgment until they know more,” said the news network in a statement.  “Should they decide not to participate in debates on CNN, we would find it curious, as limiting their debate participation seems to be the ultimate disservice to voters.”

The Republican party chairmen of two early-voting primary states, however, quickly backed Priebus’s stance.

"I stand with Reince Priebus and the RNC,” Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker said in a statement. “I will not sign the Iowa GOP up to co-sponsor debates with NBC or CNN unless they pull their upcoming films on Hillary Clinton.

“Given NBC and CNN's decision to move forward on their films, they've attempted to give celebrity status to Hillary Clinton. They are clearly making an effort to influence the Presidential race in 2016 without adhering to their supposed pledge to uphold journalistic integrity,” Spiker added.

New Hampshire GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn said over Twitter that Priebus’s concerns were “valid and must be addressed.”

“I will support his resolution at the RNC meeting,” she said.

Polls show Clinton is the clear early favorite for the Democratic nomination, but she has yet to declare an interest in a 2016 bid.

This story was last updated at 4:29 p.m.