Candy Crowley will disregard debate agreement on Tuesday

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CNN's Candy Crowley, the moderator of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, plans to disregard the rules the campaigns signed on to and wield more control in the conversation between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

Tuesday night’s debate at Hofstra University in New York, the second presidential showdown, will be a townhall organized around audience questions. The Obama and Romney campaigns agreed in advance on rules specific to the town-hall format that rule out “follow up questions” and “comment” by the moderator.

But Crowley never signed such an agreement, and told CNN in an interview on Tuesday that she plans on "facilitating a discussion" by asking follow-up questions and pressing when necessary for a response.


"They will call on Alice and Alice will stand up and ask a question. Both candidates will answer, and then there's time for a follow-up question, facilitating a discussion, whatever you want to call it," she explained. "So if Alice asks oranges, and someone answers apples, there's time to go, 'But Alice asked oranges; what's the answer to that?' Or, 'Well, you say this, but what about that?' "

The campaigns agreed on the rules of the debate in cooperation with the recommendations of the Commission on Presidential Debates. That agreement, obtained by Time’s Mark Halperin earlier this week, includes specifics regarding the town-hall debate that limit the role of the moderator from rephrasing questions, coaching questioners or opening a new topic, as well as barring the moderator from asking follow-up questions or commenting on either questions or answers given by the candidates.

The campaigns raised concerns earlier this week that Crowley might not plan to abide by the limits of the agreement. Lawyers for both Obama’s and Romney’s campaign sent letters to the Commission on Presidential Debates asking that the commission clarify Crowley’s role ahead of Tuesday night’s event.

Crowley has pointed out that follow-up questions were asked in previous townhall-style debates.

“As was the case in the Charlie Gibson townhall meeting and the Tom Brokaw townhall meeting in presidential campaigns past, there is a time after [audience questions] for follow-up and for furthering the discussion,” Crowley told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview that aired Monday.

The commission told USA Today the agreement is only between the campaigns and does not bind the commission or the moderator, and Crowley brushed aside criticism in the Tuesday interview.

"I understand the stakes are enormous," she said.

Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod appeared to brush aside questions about the moderator’s role in a tweet on Monday, writing that the president is ready for “a vigorous debate and [questions] from all comers!”

Crowley is part of a team that pre-selected the questions to be asked by the audience at the debate. The audience was selected by the polling organization Gallup.

—Updated at 2:43 p.m.