Hitting the Ground Running in the First Presidential Debate of 2016

By Abby Hoyt, Co-Editor-in-Chief

In this historic election, it is extremely important that voters remain informed of the actions, past and present, of both candidates. There have been a lot of scandals bouncing around the media recently,, so let’s take this opportunity to break those down and look at the facts.

Clinton: The FBI investigation into her personal email account:

Most government employees are encouraged to have two separate devices and accounts: one for official governmental affairs and one for personal correspondence. However, during her tenure as  Secretary of State, Clinton merged the two onto a single device and a single email account on a home server that was left over from her failed 2008 campaign. According to Politico, having a personal email account doesn’t break any rules, but the use of private servers does raise concerns about security. . For this reason, government employees are instead encouraged to forward emails to official accounts so that they can be recorded.

Beginning in 2011, Clinton’s email server started to experience “brute force attacks”, characterized by several unsuccessful attempts at guessing a username and password. The account was hacked several times and links containing viruses were consistently being sent to the email account . In March 2013, the server was hacked by a man named Marcel Lazar Lehel with the intention of distributing the information to the public.

Although the media’s focus on the scandal seems relatively recent , the existence of the private email account first came to light during the investigation into the Benghazi attacks in Libya in February 2013. When the State Department pulled their relevant documents they noticed that they didn’t have on record a lot of Clinton’s emails and asked her to produce them. She complied with their request.  Clinton announced her campaign for the presidency in April 2015, but the emails were not released to the public until February 2016.

The subsequently released FBI investigation summary concluded that although  her actions were “extremely careless”, criminal prosecution was not necessary. Additionally, the Select Committee on Benghazi, which was formed in 2014 to investigate events leading up to the 2012 terrorist attacks in Libya, found no evidence requiring court action against Clinton.

Trump: Where are your tax returns?

The “that makes me smart,” comment from Trump in response to Clinton’s accusation that he hadn’t paid taxes in two decades certainly confirmed some rumors floating around about Trump’s tax record. Trump’s excuse for failing to release his tax returns is that the IRS is auditing him. He has said on multiple occasions that when the audit is complete, he will release his tax returns.

Presidential candidates release their tax returns in order to to reveal any potential conflicts of interest. Every other presidential nominee since 1976 has released their tax returns to the public during his or her campaign. The problem with Trump’s excuse, however, is that being audited doesn’t prevent one from releasing their tax returns.

The Clinton Foundation:

The Clinton Foundation is a NGO that supports programs around the world that   influence economic development, climate change, health, and women’s issues. As a global charity, they accept donations from any country in the world.

Critics have argued that this donation policy violates the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which explicitly forbid foreigners from giving financial contributions to any election on the federal, state, or local level. Throughout the duration of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, The Clinton Foundation has continued to receive foreign donations, but if Clinton is elected in November, then the foundation will renounce these sources of funding. Until then, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told CNN that the existing donations will continue to go towards this “important, life-saving work.”

The Blind Trust:

Normally when a presidential candidate takes office, they put their assets into a blind trust to avoid any conflicts of interest. A blind trust is a temporary transfer of investments to an independent trustee. The original trustee is not permitted to direct or advise the independent trustee for the duration of the trust’s existence. Donald Trump, however, recently said that he would “probably have [his] children run it with [his] executives,” an arrangement which does not constitute a blind trust. 

The Debate:

The first presidential debate was held at Hofstra University on Monday September 26. According to CNN, over 80 million people tuned in to watch Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off. This is the highest recorded viewing population in the past 60 years.

While the debate was mostly characterized by dialogue between the two candidates, it did address  some central campaign issues, such as the economy, responses to their respective scandals, and fighting terror at home and abroad.

Clinton’s economic proposal includes increasing jobs in technology, infrastructure, clean renewable energy and small business, whereas Trump proposes giving tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations that can use the money they save to open more locations and create more jobs.  The economic approach that Trump recommends,  called “trickle-down economics”,  has been criticized for being a contributing factor in the formation of the Wall Street corruption that caused the housing bubble to burst in 2008.

The candidates also spent a lot of time discussing their plans to increase American job opportunities. Clinton’s priority lies within “helping families balance the responsibilities at home and the responsibilities in business.” She spent most of her allotted two minutes talking about how she was going to fight for equal pay for women, paid family leave, affordable childcare, and raising the minimum wage. Trump instead focused on the international implications of our job market, stating, “Our jobs are fleeing the country.” He  maintained that the actions of the Obama Administration and Janet Yellen, Chairwomen of The Federal Reserve Bank, were forcing companies to leave the United States and move to China and Mexico.

Both candidates were also given the opportunity to address their biggest scandals. Moderator Lester Holt began by referencing  Trump’s inability to release his tax returns to the public, and posed the question “Don’t Americans have the right to know if there are any conflicts of interest?”  Trump repeated the same answer that he has given to reporters in the past; he assured Holt that he would release the tax returns once the audit was complete. However, when Holt tried to inform Trump about the possibility of releasing taxes during an audit, Trump merely  repeated the  same answer.

Clinton responded to questions about the FBI’s investigation into her use of a personal email account to conduct business during her tenure as Secretary of State, saying,. “If I had to do it over again I would obviously do it differently. But I’m not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake and I take responsibility for that.”

Given how tight the race is and just how much is at stake, Holt’s final question pushed each candidate to address how they would respond were they not chosen as the next president of the United States. Clinton took this opportunity to stress the importance of voting in this election, declaring, “this election’s really up to you [the voter].” Trump took a more direct approach. “I want to make America great again. I’m going to be able to do it. I don’t believe Hillary will. The answer is if she wins I will absolutely support her.”

This debate was only the first of three. The coming two debates will be held on October 9 at Washington University in Saint Louis and October 19 at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Debate Topic Highlights:

Debate Topic Trump Clinton
Jobs “Ours jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico they’re going to many other countries.” “First we have to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. That means we need new jobs, good jobs with rising incomes.”
Clean Energy “We invested in a solar company, our country. That was a disaster.” “We can deploy a half a billion more solar panels. We can have enough clean energy to power every home. We can build a new modern electric grid.”
Taxing the Rich “Under my plan I will be reducing taxes tremendously from thirty-five percent to fifteen percent for companies, small and big businesses. That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan.” “And so what I believe is the more we can do for the middle class, the more we can invest in you, your education, your skills, your future, the better we will be off and the better we will grow. That’s the kind of economy I want to see again.”
Scandals (releasing tax returns and email) “I don’t mind releasing. I’m under a routine audit. And it will be released. And as soon as the audit’s finished, it will be released.” “And if I had to do it over again I would obviously do it differently. But I’m not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake and I take responsibility for that.”
Race Relations “And we need law and order. If we don’t have it, we’re not going to have a country.” “We have to restore trust between communities and the police. We have to work to make sure that our police are using the best training, the best techniques, that they’re well prepared to use force only when necessary.”
Terror “The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe, it’s hardly doable. But I will say, we are not doing the job we should be doing. But that’s true throughout our whole governmental society. We have so many things that we have to do better, Lester. And certainly cyber is one of them.” “We are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information. Our private-sector information or our public-sector information. And we’re going to have to make it clear that we don’t want to use the kinds of tools that we have. We don’t want to engage in a different kind of warfare, but we will defend the citizens of this country.”
Birther Movement “When I got involved, I didn’t fail, I got him to give the birth certificate. So I’m satisfied with it, and I’ll tell you why I’m satisfied with it.” “He [Trump] has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen. There was absolutely no evidence for it, but he persisted. He persisted year after year because some of his supporters, people that he was trying to bring into his fold apparently believed it or wanted to believe it.”
Hillary’s Candidacy “She doesn’t have the look. She doesn’t have the stamina. And I don’t believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country you need tremendous stamina.” “Well as soon as he travels to one hundred and twelve countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release if dissidents, and opening of new opportunities and nations around the world or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.”


*all quotes are taken from NPR’s debate transcript. A copy of which can be found at


From the print edition published on Oct. 5, 2016

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