The topic of Vladimir Putin came up again in this debate and, while Donald Trump sought to separate himself a bit from the Russian leader, he also explained why a closer alliance with Putin could make strategic sense.
His tone ran contrary to the tough talk about Russia that his running mate, former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, deployed during last week’s vice presidential debate.
“I don’t know Putin,” Trump said Sunday. “I think it would be great if we got along with Putin so we could fight ISIS together.” Cooperating with Russia to fight ISIS is in fact a longstanding position taken by Trump and some of his advisers, including Gen. Michael Flynn.
Trump also said, in response to Hillary Clinton, that he had no investments in Russia and no loans from that country.
The Washington Post and other news organizations have examined Trump’s long exchange of compliments with Putin as well as ties that he and top aides have to Russia.
Clinton pressed him again during tonight’s debate to release his taxes so that any obligations he was under could be reviewed publicly. Trump has said he won’t release his taxes while an IRS audit is under way.
But he also said U.S. government officials who have reviewed his portfolio know he is not beholden to lenders in Russia. “You could go to the U.S. government and they would probably tell you that,” he said while still insisting that he would not release his taxes while an audit is underway.
IRS officials have said there is no prohibition on Trump releasing his taxes while he is being audited but it his decision whether to make them public. However, U.S. officials are prohibited by law from publicly releasing information contained in an individual’s tax filings.
Hillary Clinton noted that the intelligence community on Friday attributed to Russia an effort to interfere in the U.S. election. And it also noted, as she pointed out, that WikiLeaks has posted material stolen by Russian hackers.
“Maybe they’re doing it to influence the outcome for Donald Trump,” she said.
Maybe. But the intelligence community hasn’t determined that. It is probably more likely, senior officials have said, that the Kremlin is just seeking to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the outcome, to rattle an adversary, to create an appearance that American democracy isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
Trump, for his part, repeated the claim he made at the last debate – that he had no reason to believe Russia was behind the hacks.
That assertion runs counter to the consensus of the intelligence community, including the FBI. They have concluded with “high confidence” that Russian spy agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee, as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.