Shortly after learning he was being indicted a third time, former President Donald J. Trump had a private dinner with the top leadership at Fox News as they lobbied him to attend the first Republican presidential primary debate this month, three people familiar with the event said.
The dinner between Mr. Trump, the Fox News president Jay Wallace and the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, was held in a private dining room at Mr. Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J., according to two of the people familiar with the event.
Mr. Trump has been vocal about probably skipping the first debate, which Fox News is hosting with the Republican National Committee on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, as well as the second, planned for September at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. But he has also made clear to several people in private conversations that he hasn’t closed the door on attending the first one.
Despite Mr. Trump’s caustic attacks on Fox News over the past several days on his social media site, Truth Social, the two-hour dinner was described as cordial.
The Fox executives made a soft appeal for Mr. Trump to attend the debate, two of the people familiar with the dinner said, telling the former president that he excels on the center stage and that it presents an opportunity for him to show off his debate skills. Several people who have tried pushing Mr. Trump to debate in recent weeks have argued that if he does not show up, he could be giving an opening to other candidates to perform well.
Mr. Trump told the Fox executives that he had not yet made a decision and would keep an open mind, the three people said. The Fox team requested the meeting. The dinner was supposed to have included another participant from the network — the host Sean Hannity, who is friendly with Mr. Trump — but he was doing his 9 p.m. show and couldn’t make it.
Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, declined to comment on the dinner, saying, “I won’t discuss a private meeting.”
Irena Briganti, a spokeswoman for Fox News, also declined to comment on the private dinner.
Mr. Trump has complained about Fox News for months, particularly for its coverage of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, the former president’s closest competitor in the Republican primary. Recently, Mr. Trump publicly attacked an interview that the Fox News host Bret Baier conducted with Mr. DeSantis, describing it as too soft. He resurfaced that complaint about Mr. Baier at the dinner, two of the people said.
Mr. Baier, who will be co-hosting the Fox News debate with Martha MacCallum, did an interview with Mr. Trump in June that was widely viewed as contributing to Mr. Trump’s legal challenges, and which the former president later complained was “unfriendly” after initially saying he enjoyed it and that it was “fair.” Mr. Trump has had numerous private conversations with a range of people, including his own advisers, Fox talent and major Republican donors, about whether he should attend the debate.
Mr. Trump has indicated to his associates that he would be foolish to risk appearing on the same stage as his lower-polling rivals and giving them a chance to “have a moment” by landing a shot on him, according to one of the people, who has discussed the debate with the former president. Mr. Trump’s advisers have suggested to him and to others that he has nothing to gain from debating, but the former president himself has pointedly refused to rule out making a surprise appearance.