“Securing America,” one of the scheduled topics in tonight’s presidential-candidate debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, is also one of the top concerns for PutinTrump.org. We expect that either moderator Lester Holt or the candidates themselves will raise two key issues under this theme – and the responses will be worlds apart.
Here’s what we’re looking for, and the kinds of answers we are likely to hear:
1) Emails, cyber crime and the election. While we expect that questions around Clinton’s emails and servers during her time as Secretary of State will be raised in the debate, the security questions around her emails have already been vetted by Congress and the FBI, and no charges were filed. A far more serious risk should be discussed tonight: the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email system, as well as electoral systems in Arizona and Illinois.
The FBI is just beginning to investigate the Russian hacking and subsequent leaks of stolen emails from the DNC and officials such as former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Colin Powell. It is believed that this unprecedented Russian interference into the U.S election is on behalf of Trump. The FBI has high confidence that Russia is behind the stolen emails.
Trump has explicitly welcomed hacking by a foreign state. According to the New York Times, Trump said “he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyber espionage against a former secretary of state.” Trump has suggested that additional hacked email revelations will emerge before the Nov. 8 election.
During the debate, Trump will either repeat his pro-hacking statements or try to deny what he said and distance himself from his previous often-repeated statements in praise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and inviting more hacking. In that case, he makes a clear flip-flop on his position. No matter his response, Trump’s position on Russian interference in the U.S. election, as well as his flattery of Putin, raise critical national security questions, and moderator Holt should hold Trump to account.
For Clinton’s part, she has called Russian interference in U.S. elections “a threat from an adversarial foreign power.” Expect her to stay firm to this position in the debate: Cyber espionage and Russian hacking has no place in the U.S. election and should be appalling for all citizens.
2) NATO. We agree with The New York Times, which says Trump should be asked about NATO:
“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the alliance between the United States and 27 other countries, including the three Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Article 5 of its charter explicitly states that an attack on one member should be considered an attack on all. You have praised President Vladimir V. Putin, vowing to fashion better relations with Russia. But if, as he did in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin intervened militarily in one of the Baltic States, would you favor invoking NATO’s Article 5 and sending forces to counter Russia?”
Trump has implied that he might not honor the long-standing U.S. commitment to NATO members. And he has said his response to a possible Baltic invasion by Russia won’t be an automatic “we’ll protect you.” Instead, Trump’s actions would depend on whether or not the NATO member is current on its defense spending commitments. Such an approach would cripple speedy action by the NATO alliance, much to the delight of Putin.
Trump will either have to backtrack, and finally support NATO – a clear flip-flop – or stick with his position along lines that favor Putin and Russia’s national interests.
Clinton has consistently said the U.S. should honor its commitment to NATO members. NATO came to the aid of the United States after 9/11, after all. Such a clear posture of deterrence has largely kept the peace in Europe and the alliance strong for nearly 70 years.
Tonight, look for Trump is likely to resort to outright denials of his previous statements or to flip his positions entirely. Either way, where does Trump really stand on the issues that most impact U.S. security? What would he actually do in office? In terms of the most important questions around “Securing America,” voters can’t trust anything he says.