Latest, News, Our Picks, Rapid Response, Sections

Hillary Clinton pulls the Russia card, calls Donald Trump a Russian ‘puppet’ in final debate

Last television debate showed contenders scoring points but left a clear impression of the inadequacy of both of them and of the growing disconnect between the US political establishment and the American people.

Donald Trump deflected charges from Hillary Clinton that he was Russia’s “puppet” while blasting Clinton for her Middle East policy on Wednesday night in the third and final debate before the November 8 election.

Neither candidate appeared to make inroads into each others’ supporters as they at times angrily reiterated positions they’ve taken throughout the campaign. Clinton goes into the election with leads in key states, making her the favourite three weeks from now.

In what was another highly contentious match, the candidates clashed in Nevada on a number of foreign policy issues, including the operation to liberate Mosul, U.S. policy in Syria and relations with Iran.

Trump’s position on Russia again took centre stage. Clinton has been under fire for damaging revelations in her campaign chairman’s emails, which have been published by Wikileaks. To deflect attention from them, Clinton and U.S. intelligence claim, without producing proof, that the “highest levels” of the Russian government are responsible for the hacked emails in an effort to help Trump get elected. Evidence is evidently not required when it comes to blaming Russia.

Sparks Fly

Clinton’s charge sparked a dramatic exchange. “What’s really important about Wikileaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans,” she charged. “They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions, then they have given that information to Wikileaks,” she said.

“This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government, clearly from [President Vladimir] Putin himself, in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election,” Clinton said.

“Will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in this election?” she asked.

Trump responded by saying that Clinton had “no idea” if it was Russia, China or anyone else who had hacked into the accounts. Some former U.S. intelligence officials contend that the emails were leaked, rather than hacked.

The Republican candidate said he favoured good U.S.-Russian relations and that the two countries should form an alliance to fight ISIS. “I don’t know Putin,” Trump said “He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good. [Putin] has no respect for [Clinton].”

“Well, that’s because [Putin would] rather have a puppet as president,” Clinton shot back.

“You’re the puppet,” Trump interjected.

“You are willing to spout the Putin line,” Clinton retorted, “sign up for his wish list, rake up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him because he has a very clear favourite in this race.”

If Russia prefers Trump it is probably because he wants dialogue with Moscow, while Clinton has called Putin “Hitler” and made bellicose statements towards the country.

The U.S. and Russia on September 9 concluded such a deal that Trump wants to jointly fight ISIS but it collapsed after the U.S. said it “accidentally” killed about 80 Syrian soldiers near Deir ez-Zor in Syria.

“She doesn’t like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way,” Trump said. “All you have to do is look at the Middle East. They’ve taken over. We’ve spent $6 trillion. [Russia has] taken over the Middle East. She has been outsmarted and outplayed worse than anybody I’ve ever seen in any government whatsoever.”

At one point Trump said Russian had “taken over territory” in Syria, though Russia has no ground troops in the country, a statement that shows Trump’s shaky command of facts.

Clinton again recklessly called for a safe area and a no-fly zone in Syria, though the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, told Congress this month that that would mean war with Russia. And in one of her leaked emails she admitted a no-fly zone would “kill a lot of Syrians.” 

At Odds Over Mosul

The two candidates also sharply disagreed on the operation launched this week by the Iraqi Army, the Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite-dominated militia to retake Mosul from ISIS.

Trump blamed Clinton for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq when she was secretary of state. “We had Mosul,” said Trump said though he insists he opposed the 2003 invasion. “But when she left, she took everybody out, we lost Mosul. Now we’re fighting again to get Mosul.”

Without going into details, Trump said Iran would benefit most by the liberation of Mosul. “Iran should write us a thank you letter,” he said. “As I said many years ago, Iran is taking over Iraq. Something they’ve wanted to do forever. But we’ve made it so easy for them.”

Trump also claimed that ISIS leaders had already fled the Iraqi city because the U.S. had incorrectly advertised the operation months in advance. “Whatever happened to the element of surprise?” Trump said.

Clinton rejected Trump’s allegation that the timing of the Mosul attack was aimed at helping her get elected. “I’m just amazed that he seems to think that the Iraqi government and our allies and everybody else launched the attack on Mosul to help me in this election,” she said.

Victory in Mosul would boost Barack Obama’s legacy, that vanity outgoing presidents become obsessed with. It would also undermine Trump’s argument that the Clinton-Obama policies in Iraq have failed.

“We need to go after the leadership, but we need to get rid … of their fighters, their estimated several thousand fighters in Mosul,” Clinton said. “They’ve been digging underground. They’ve been prepared to defend. It’s going to be tough fighting. I think we can take back Mosul and move on into Syria and take Raqqah”, ISIS’s stronghold there.

Trump landed a few zingers, exposing Clinton’s hypocrisy in defending women’s rights while cozying up to the Saudis. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia had given $25 million to the Clinton Foundation.  “You talk about women and women’s rights. So these are people that push gays off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money. So I’d like to ask you right now why don’t you give back the money that you have taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so horribly? Why don’t you give back the money?” Trump said.

Domestic Differences

The debate then moved on to other topics, but there were no questions about climate change, government surveillance of citizens, energy policy, police violence or tension in the South China Sea.

On domestic issues, the candidates disagreed on abortion, guns, immigration, health care and the economy. Trump and Clinton differed on abortion, with Clinton supporting Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision making it legal nationally, while Trump wants the individual states to decide.

Trump strongly defended the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Americans the right to own guns, while Clinton said that right should be limited by government regulation. This is one of Clinton’s strongest points.

Trump again called for mass deportation of undocumented immigrants while Clinton said they should be offered a path to citizenship. On health care, Clinton defended Obama’s national plan, while Trump again vowed to scrap it but again didn’t say what he’d replace it with.

And on the economy Trump said he wants to cut taxes on all Americans including the wealthiest, while Clinton said she’d make the rich and big corporations pay “their fair share.” It will certainly bear watching whether she follows through on this pledge should she win, given her very strong ties to Wall Street.

Then Trump made the remark that sent the corporate media into hysteria. He said he wouldn’t know until the election results were in whether he would accept them as free and fair. Over the past week he’s repeatedly warned that the election process would be “rigged.”

The 2000 and 2004 elections were marred by evidence of election fraud and a close result in three weeks could again open the results to contention.

Circling the Class Wagons


Corporate media, which has decided it is their imperative to defend their class interests and those of their bosses, and not practice journalism, led all of their broadcasts and front pages with this remark in their best display of herd mentality.  They are reading into this that Trump will use violence to prevent the sacred “democratic transfer of power.” Yet given what happened in Florida and Ohio it is a completely reasonable position for Trump to take.

Feeling threatened by the anger in the land their policies have created, the Establishment has circled the wagons around Clinton, whose comments in a speech and in leaked emails reveal her disdain for ordinary Americans.

Class anger has underscored the entire 2106 campaign. Americans who have suffered under neoliberalism since Ronald Reagan are fighting back. Unfortunately, they have yet to find the right leader.  Sanders was certainly on the right track, railing against Wall Street, the trade deals, college debt and other issues, and he was without Trump’s baggage. But he promised to support Clinton (and save his standing in a deeply corrupt Democratic Party), rather than become head of the Green Party ticket to make a viable independent run, taking votes from both Clinton and Trump.

Trump is the wrong leader because he’s a billionaire demagogue whose commitment to the interests of the ruined middle class are untested. For instance he wants tax cuts for people as rich as he is, peddling the lie that that will create jobs. Demand creates jobs and that means putting money in people’s pockets. He denies climate change and wants to expand torture, and he’s shown extreme intolerance towards Mexicans and Muslims.

There’s been overkill on the story, but Trump’s sexual misconduct certainly undermines his character. His strongest suit has been his foreign policy rhetoric, especially regarding Russia, but even that is flawed, for instance when he accused Russia of taking over the Middle East and “territory” in Syria. And he wants to increase military spending when the U.S. spends as much as the next ten countries. He has talked about Japan and South Korea getting nuclear weapons, as Clinton pointed out in the debate.

And when Trump is right on a point he fails to make the right arguments. He never demanded  to see the evidence against Russia, and never presented evidence showing the Obama-Clinton foreign policy team’s role in fostering the rise of ISIS,

It’s going to be a very long four years as we wait to see if America will explode in social unrest.

Previous ArticleNext Article
Joe Lauria
Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.