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Jeff Zucker says CNN will not pay Donald Trump to appear in the next GOP debate

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during an interview in Sterling, Va., on Wednesday.

(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

If Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump shows up at the next CNN debate, it will be for free.

CNN President Jeff Zucker said Thursday during a breakfast conversation at the Paley Center for Media that his network does not pay candidates for showing up at debates. That rule holds for Trump, who has been a ratings magnet for the Republican primary debates in the 2016 race for the White House.

Trump said Monday at a campaign stop in Georgia that his presence at the debates has turned them into revenue windfalls for the cable news networks that carry them and that he wanted $5 million for CNN’s next debate scheduled for Dec. 15 in Las Vegas. He said he would donate the payment to charity.

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Trump made a similar demand before the last GOP debate that aired on CNN on Nov. 14. CNN ignored it and the candidate showed up anyway. Watched by 22.9 million people, the debate gave the cable news network the largest audience in its 35-year history.

CNN has refrained from any comment on Trump’s demands in the past, but Zucker addressed it when it was raised by BuzzFeed Editor-in-chief Ben Smith at the Paley Center.

Zucker was also asked if he had “any regrets” about his role in building Trump’s stature as a TV star. Zucker said he does not.

As head of NBC’s entertainment division in 2003, Zucker bought the reality series “The Apprentice,” which turned the real estate mogul into a prime-time fixture. As a TV producer who had spent most of his career in New York, Zucker said he was aware that Trump was a compelling personality and the right fit for the show when it was pitched.

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 "I understood ‘The Apprentice’ was ‘Survivor’ in a different jungle and everybody was looking for their ‘Survivor,’” he said. “I understood immediately what Donald Trump was and what it meant to have him at the center of that show. I have no regrets about ‘The Apprentice.’ It was absolutely the right decision and it turned out to be a phenomenal decision for NBC for a long time. So that was a good move. I have no regrets about the part that I played in his career.”

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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