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Alleged Blackmail of Sen. Rubio Leads Five GOP Candidates to Boycott Univision Debate

Network reportedly offered to "soften" a story about Rubio's brother-in-law in return for him appearing on one of its programs.

Five GOP presidential contenders said they will boycott a planned debate hosted by UnivisionFlorida Sen. Marco Rubio

Five Republican presidential candidates said they will boycott a proposed Univision-sponsored debate in January after allegations emerged that the Spanish-language network tried to blackmail Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio over a story about his brother-in-law.

GOP contenders Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann all said Tuesday they will not participate in the planned debate until the alleged ethical breach involving Rubio -- widely thought to be on the short list for the vice presidential nomination -- is resolved, the Miami Herald reported.

According to the newspaper, which first posted a story on the allegations Saturday, Rubio repeatedly refused to appear on Univision's liberal-leaning "Al Punto" show to discuss the Dream Act, which he staunchly opposes. Frustrated, the network dispatched its investigations unit during the summer to dig up a story on the 1987 cocaine arrest of Orlando Cicilia, Rubio's brother-in-law. Both Rubio staffers and Univision insiders alleged the news director tried to make a deal with the senator: Appear on Al Punto and the network would kill or soften the story. Rubio declined, and the story ran on July 11, amid much hype.

Following the report, three Florida congressman sent open letters to Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus on Monday, calling the revelations "offensive, unacceptable and demonstrat[ing] a lack of journalistic integrity" and urging all GOP hopefuls to boycott the debate, which has not been officially announced.

In a statement to the Associated Press on Tuesday, the network denied it tried to coerce Rubio into appearing on one of its programs in exchange for minimizing the decades-old story. On Monday, Univision had called the allegations "patently absurd" and said it would "respectfully decline" to apologize.

"With respect to Senator Rubio, Univision covered the [cocaine] story in the same objective, fair manner we cover every significant story," the network said in a statement. "Univision did not offer to soften or spike a story about a major drug bust involving Senator Rubio's relatives. We would not make such an offer to any other subject of a news story and did not offer it in this case."

Still, Univision's denial did not stop the five candidates from saying they would not participate in the debate.

“Governor Perry will not consider participating in the January 29, 2012, Univision debate until your network addresses this ethical breach and takes action to correct it,” a Perry campaign spokesman wrote Univision. “With NBC and Telemundo also hosting a debate the same weekend in January 2012, we will have ample opportunity to engage with Spanish-speaking Americans.”

In a statement, a Romney spokesman stood equally firm “We have not received any invitation from Univision for a debate, but we are troubled by these allegations and would not participate in any such debate unless and until Univision satisfactorily addresses this situation.”

Cain’s campaign issued a statement through Florida state Rep. Scott Plakon, who said the recent straw-poll winner is “out. Until Univision resolves this, he won’t participate in the debate like the other candidates.”

“Unless Univision resolves this issue in a timely and satisfactory manner, Governor Huntsman will not give consideration to your network’s debate currently proposed for January, 2012,” Huntsman's campaign manager wrote Univision. “We ask the other Republican candidates to join us in this decision and will work with them to identify another forum to debate issues that are important to Americans of Hispanic descent in Florida and across our nation.”

Bachmann's spokeswoman left the door open to the Minnesota congresswoman participating in the debate pending a satisfactory outcome: “This issue was brought to Michele’s attention and she has a great deal of respect for Senator Rubio,” she said. “We reserve our right to participate in the Univision debate pending a positive resolution of this matter by Univision."

Rick Santorum's campaign is reportedly reviewing the matter, according to the Associated Press, but has not announced whether he will boycott. None of the remaining candidates have yet declared their intentions.

Rubio's office has said only that the Herald's story is "accurate" and refused to comment further.

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