Fox News slammed Donald Trump's decision to skip Thursday night's debate in Iowa and accused his campaign manager of "terrorizations" against Megyn Kelly, "The Kelly File" host who will be one of the moderators at the event.
Trump has had an ongoing feud with Kelly since she questioned his sexist attacks against women during a debate in August. Fox News said the war of words escalated behind the scenes over the weekend during a call with Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
In a statement released to Politico on Tuesday night, the conservative news network claimed:
"In a call on Saturday with a Fox News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn 'had a rough couple days after that last debate' and he 'would hate to have her go through that again.' Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so."
"We can't give into terrorizations toward any of our employees," the network said.
Fox News said the GOP frontrunner for president spent four days lobbying to have Kelly replaced, but they refused to give in to his demands.
"Capitulating to politicians' ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards," the network said.
Trump is still welcome to join the debate "but he can't dictate the moderators or the questions."
The latest statement is a sharp turn from one released earlier in the day, which took more of a humorous tone. According to The New York Times, Fox News initially said:
“We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.”
Writing on Twitter, Trump dismissed that earlier statement as a "pathetic attempt by @foxnews to try and build up ratings for the #GOPDebate. Without me they'd have no ratings!"
At the time of this writing, Trump has not yet commented on the latest statement accusing his campaign manager of threatening Kelly.