Tonight’s final presidential debate focused on the big issues: immigration, the economy, and which of the candidates is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.”
In a sharp exchange, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each accused the other of being beholden to Putin. After pivoting from a question about how Wikileaks leaked emails from top campaign officials, Clinton challenged Trump to condemn Russia’s alleged hacking and involvement in the U.S. election.
Trump fired back that he’s never even met Putin.
“I don’t know Putin, he’s said nice things about me,” he said. “If Russia and the U.S. got along, that would be good.” Putin, he added, “has no respect for her, he has no respect for our president… He has no respect for this person.”
Clinton had a comeback ready: Putin, she said, would rather have Trump elected as “a puppet for president of the United States.”
As she kept talking, Trump interrupted: “No puppet. No puppet.” Then he broke in again: “You’re the puppet. You’re the puppet.”
Trump didn’t explain what he meant or how he thought Clinton was being controlled by the Kremlin. The billionaire businessman, on the other hand, has in the past expressly asked for Russia to “find” Clinton’s deleted emails and praised Putin for being a “strong leader.”
“He has a very clear favorite in this race,” Clinton said of Putin. “It’s unprecedented… We’ve never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election.”
U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe the hacking of Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee was directed by the Russian government, although they haven’t offered concrete evidence to back that claim up.
During the debate, Trump said he doubted Russia was actually behind the hacking. Clinton “has no idea” who is directing the hackers, he said.
The image of Putin-as-puppetmaster lit up on Twitter:
And we’ll leave you with this old tweet from the Donald himself: