The Hard-to-follow 11-minute Debate Clash over Foreign Influence




President Donald Trump and Joe Biden delved into the pandemic, health insurance and energy in their final debate Thursday night. But for 11 minutes, they detoured down a labyrinthine path of personal charges and countercharges that voters likely struggled to follow.

Rapid-fire accusations of corruption, veering from the tax returns Trump has never released to the foreign business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter and the purported “laptop from hell,” punctuated the second segment of the debate. The candidates started off talking about the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the nation for months now, but they also captured the obsessions animating smaller subsets of Americans — without effectively describing either of them.

The debate eventually returned to policy questions, but not before Trump brought up unverified reporting about Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. The president hurled dollar figures he claims Biden’s family pocketed from foreign powers, trying to reclaim outsider status by branding Biden as corrupt.

Biden shot back, painting Trump as a tax-dodging plutocrat whose henchmen rely on Russian adversaries trying to dirty Biden’s name. Biden, for his part, said his release of 22 years of tax returns disprove the idea that any questionable income came his way and that he did not do anything with regard to Ukraine but carry out U.S. policy toward the country.

Surprisingly, it was Biden who first brought up Trump’s recent attacks on him and his son. The moment, nearly 30 minutes into the debate, started with a question about Russian interference in American elections, when moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News cited Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s announcement Wednesday night that foreign hackers were behind threatening emails to Democratic voters in Florida and Alaska.

Biden didn’t dwell long on Ratcliffe’s announcement, pivoting instead to Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who claims to be in possession of material from Hunter Biden’s hard drive — though Biden seemed initially to hesitate to go there.

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