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Putin once again plays prominent role in debate

As in previous presidential debates this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin played a prominent role.

When Hillary Clinton was questioned about statements attributed to her in hacked emails published by WikiLeaks, Clinton responded by decrying the interference of Russian hackers in the U.S. election. Trump, she said, is willing to “spout the Putin line” on foreign policy and is accepting “help” from Putin who is interfering in this U.S. election in a way that no foreign power has attempted before.

Trump waved away the notion that the Russians are behind the hack. “Our country has no idea” who is behind the release of material lifted from the accounts of Democratic party officials and Clinton advisers.

The Republican nominee said he does not know Putin personally but asserted that the Russian leader “has no respect” for Clinton or President Obama.

While they haven’t met personally, Trump and Putin have an odd history of exchanging compliments with one another. And Trump and his advisers have had personal and financial ties to Russia. On the policy side,  Trump has publicly raised doubts about  U.S. obligations to NATO countries that don’t pay their share of expenses and offered a defense of Putin’s human rights record.

At a press conference in July, Trump seemed to appeal to Russian intelligence for help finding emails that Hillary Clinton had erased after leaving the State Department.  “Russia, if you’re listening I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from the account Hillary Clinton used for official and personal business, he said.

Trump asserted that the U.S. could make progress in the fight against ISIS by cooperating with Russia.

Trump’s assertion that the U.S. government has no idea who is behind the hacks, runs counter to the consensus of the present and former leaders 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.

During the first presidential candidate debate Trump ridiculed suggestions that Russia was behind the hacked emails that have continued to embarrass Hillary Clinton,  suggesting the effort “could also be China, it could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds, OK?”

Real-time fact-checking and analysis of the final 2016 presidential debate

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet on stage in Las Vegas at 9 p.m. Eastern.