Enlarge / Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) speaks as Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on during the third U.S. presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada.Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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In between questions about the economy and immigration, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump made time in their debate Wednesday night to spar about what may be the world’s most controversial website—WikiLeaks.
The exchange began when moderator Chris Wallace asked Clinton about speeches she gave to investment bankers, which were published by WikiLeaks. In one of those speeches, Clinton expressed a desire for a “hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.”
Clinton responded by making the role of WikiLeaks the issue.
“This has come from the highest levels of the [Russian] government, from Putin himself, in an effort to influence our election,” Clinton said, referencing Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. “Finally, 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?”
“That was a great pivot off the fact that she wants open borders,” Trump responded. He continued:
I don’t know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. He has no respect for her, no respect for our president. And I’ll tell you what—we’re in serious trouble. We have a country [Russia] with tremendous numbers of nuclear warheads. And she’s playing chicken. Putin, from everything I’ve seen, has no respect for this person.
“Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president,” Clinton responded, adding: “The Russians have engaged in cyber attacks against our country. [Trump has] signed up for his [Putin’s] wish list, he’ll break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do. He has a very clear favorite in this race.”
Clinton said 17 different intelligence agencies “all concluded that these cyber attacks come from the highest levels of the Kremlin.”
“You have no idea,” said Trump. “Our country has no idea” who hacked in to get Clinton’s emails. “Putin has out-smarted her in Syria.”
Asked if he condemned the cyber attacks, Trump said that “of course” he condemned them.
“I don’t know Putin,” said Trump. “This is not my best friend. But if the US got along with Russia, it wouldn’t be that bad.”
The debate comes at a time when the presidential campaign is uglier than ever, having taken a turn following the candidates’ second debate last week. Trump said that he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of e-mail while she was at the State Department. Since then, he’s repeatedly stated he would seek to imprison Clinton if he wins the election.
In recent days, the political debate has turned to whether or not Trump would accept a transfer of power if he loses. Trump reiterated Wednesday that he believes the election might be “rigged” through media bias and voter fraud, and that he might not accept a Clinton win.