Here’s What the Moderator Should Ask Clinton and Trump at Their First Debate

These questions would produce a much more revealing debate than the one we anticipate.

Pedro Portal/ZUMA; Louise Wateridge/ZUMA

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The time has finally come: After a grueling campaign summer, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will share a stage on Monday night for the first presidential debate. Moderator Lester Holt of NBC News has announced the three topics for the debate: America’s Direction, Achieving Prosperity, and Securing America. That tells us nothing about the types of questions he plans to ask. So we thought we’d supply a list of questions that we’d like to hear him ask the two candidates when they convene at Hofstra University on Long Island at 9 p.m. ET on Monday.

For Trump:

– Vladimir Putin, whom you have praised as a “strong leader” and a better one than President Barack Obama, has subjected protesters to forced labor and jail time, cracked down on internet freedom, and targeted the LGBT community. Journalists and political opponents of Putin have been murdered. Is this your definition of strong leadership?

– As president, would you lift US sanctions imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea?

– Your charitable organization, the Trump Foundation, recently paid a penalty to the IRS for an illegal five-figure donation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office was considering investigating Trump University. And recent Washington Post stories reveal how you’ve used the foundation for your own personal benefit, such as buying a six-foot-tall portrait of yourself, and to cover your own personal financial obligations, perhaps in violation of federal law. You have called the Clinton Foundation a pay-to-play criminal enterprise that must be shut down. So what will happen to the Trump Foundation if you are elected?

– In January you said you would turn your company—which has deep business relationships with companies and financiers in China, Russia, Turkey, India, and elsewhere—over to your children to run if you were elected president. Previous presidents have put their assets in a blind trust to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest. But that’s not possible in this instance. So how can you deal with other countries when your family business has its own, and perhaps competing, interests in these nations?

– You owe Deutsche Bank hundreds of millions of dollars at the same time that US regulators are seeking a $14 billion payment from the bank for its contribution to the financial crisis. How could you pursue the Justice Department’s action against Deutsche Bank fairly and dispassionately when you’re so indebted to it?

– A policy posted on your website calls for a complete indefinite ban on Muslims entering the United States. How do you tell if someone is a Muslim?

– Numerous terrorism experts have said your extreme rhetoric and proposals regarding Muslims hurt counterterrorism efforts by alienating Muslims at home and abroad who are necessary to the fight against ISIS, and that they help ISIS recruit supporters by allowing it to argue that the United States is targeting the Muslim religion. Do you really know more about this matter than all these experts?

– You also said you know more about ISIS than the generals. Do you actually believe that? Can you tell us how many troops ISIS has, where its strongholds are, who make up its top command, and what the best locations are to mount military attacks against ISIS targets?

– Why do you keep insisting you were against the war in Iraq when you’re on the public record supporting the invasion before the war? Have you been lying about this?

– If elected, you have promised to renegotiate the United States’ debt. This is a strategy that’s possible in business, but many economists believe it would raise the cost of future borrowing and bring financial ruin to the country and the world economy. Are all the economists wrong?

– You say you want to reach out to African American voters. So why then did you call for a return to stop-and-frisk, a policy that has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos and that was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge?

– You blamed Hillary Clinton for starting the Barack Obama birther conspiracy; virtually every fact-checker has deemed that a lie. You also claimed that you put the matter to rest by forcing the president to release his long-form birth certificate. So why, for years afterward, did you continue to question whether he was born in the United States? And why did you say your investigators in Hawaii found material that supposedly supported your birther claims?

– In recent years, you’ve repeatedly promoted other conspiracy theories: that Ted Cruz’s father played a role in the JFK assassination, that vaccines cause autism, that Obama was a founder of ISIS. Why do you keep making these bizarre claims?

– You’ve had the vocal support of white supremacists like David Duke and leaders of the alt-right movement, and at times you and your advisers have retweeted their incendiary tweets. You also appeared on Alex Jones’ talk show and called him “amazing.” Jones is a 9/11 truther who has suggested that the Sandy Hook massacre never happened and that the government is deliberately turning kids gay by sneaking estrogen into juice boxes. Will you take this opportunity to renounce all these folks and say you don’t welcome the support of racists and other extremists?

– You have made illegal immigration a top issue. Yet your modeling agency recruited models who worked in the United States without the right immigration papers. Isn’t that hypocrisy?

– You often say you hire only the “best people,” yet you have gone through multiple campaign managers in less than a year. Did you not hire the “best people”? Why should voters believe that you would do better with important positions in your administration?

– In a 2007 deposition, you said under oath that you have never associated with anyone you knew to be affiliated with organized crime. Yet in the early 1980s you leased property for an Atlantic City casino from two men linked to the Mafia. And in 1999, you told the Associated Press, “I build buildings. I have to deal with the unions, the mob, some of the roughest men you’ve ever seen in your life.” So did you lie during that deposition?

– After the mass shooting in Orlando, you said LGBT Americans should vote for you and that your proposed ban on immigration from certain countries would protect LGBT people. But you have appeared at several events organized by anti-LGBT organizations, declared your support for the North Carolina bathroom bill, and proposed possible Supreme Court nominees who oppose LGBT rights. So why should any LGBT person take you seriously?

– In a 2015 interview, you said, “The problem we have right now—we have a society that sits back and says we don’t have to do anything. Eventually, the 50 percent cannot carry—and it’s unfair to them—but cannot carry the other 50 percent.” This suggests you share the view that Mitt Romney expressed in 2012: that 47 percent of Americans are freeloaders who won’t take responsibility for their own lives. Isn’t that insulting to half of Americans?

– You say you’re under audit so you can’t release your tax returns. That didn’t stop Richard Nixon. But would you allow a neutral third party to review your tax forms from the past 10 years and release publicly your income, your income sources, your effective tax rate, and your charitable contributions?

– Hillary and Bill Clinton attended your third wedding. Why did you invite them? Did you like them personally at the time?

– On many occasions you have failed to pay contractors—often small businesses—who have done work for you and your properties. Earlier this year, before she was working for you, your current campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said of you, “He says he’s for the little guy, but he’s actually built a lot of his businesses on the backs of the little guy…through not paying contractors after you’ve built something. The little guys have suffered.” How can voters be assured that if elected you will care about working men and women?

– You had to pay a $750,000 fine when the Justice Department charged you with violating Wall Street trading rules. The Securities and Exchange Commission cited your company for issuing inaccurate earnings information. The Federal Election Commission fined you for exceeding the annual limit on campaign contributions. The New York State lobbying commission imposed a $250,000 fine on you for failing to disclose the full extent of your lobbying of state legislators. Should people call you Crooked Donald?

For Clinton:

– You said recently that the United States should consider a “military response” to the hacking conducted by other nations. What do you have in mind? And could the US government ever conclusively identify those responsible for any given attack?

– Is it still possible to defeat ISIS and Syrian President Bashar Assad at the same time? How would your anti-ISIS policy differ from what President Obama has been doing?

– Obama campaigned in 2008 on bridging the partisan divide. Now things are more polarized than ever. Why do you think you can work better and more productively with Republicans in Congress than Obama has?

– You have claimed that you used a private email server for convenience. But a report by the State Department’s inspector general found that in 2010 you told an aide who suggested you use a department email that “I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.” Did you use your private server merely for convenience, or were you trying to avoid having to comply with public records laws that might compel you to release information you did not want the public to see?

– Last year, you suggested that Black Lives Matter activists propose clear policy ideas instead of only protesting. In August, a collective of activists released “A Vision for Black Lives,” a document outlining policies that could be enacted to help black America. Have you looked at that document? Would you work to enact any of the policy proposals offered by the activists?

– Why have you repeatedly praised Henry Kissinger, whose underhanded and covert diplomacy led to brutal massacres around the globe, including in Chile, Argentina, East Timor, and Bangladesh?

– With competition falling on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, some Democrats in Congress are calling for the public option—a policy that you have said you support. But health care reform is a hard sell on Capitol Hill, as you know from your own experience in the 1990s. Would you make the public option a priority as president?

– You’ve announced steps to distance yourself from the Clinton Foundation should you become president. But was it a mistake for the foundation to accept large donations from foreign individuals and entities while you were in charge of US foreign policy and would soon run for the presidency? Are people wrong to wonder if contributors to the foundation were trying to win favor with you and you might be more amenable to their requests and preferences?

– Would you consider it unseemly for four of the past five presidents to come from two families? What does this say about the United States and its political system?

– It took you more than eight months this year to hold your first press conference. Why did you hide for so long from the reporters who cover you the most? Don’t you think the public deserves to have its politicians vigorously questioned by the press?

– As secretary of state, you served as something of a global fracking evangelist. What would you say to Americans whose neighborhoods have suffered drinking-water contamination and earthquakes as a result of fracking?

– Do you think it’s not too late to stop global warming? Can major climate initiatives be undertaken by executive order, or will you need to win the cooperation of Congress?

– You and your husband have earned tens of millions of dollars giving paid speeches, including to various Wall Street and big finance firms. In one case, your husband pocketed $250,000 for speaking to a so-called vulture fund that has purchased companies, saddled them with debt, and laid off employees to extract the maximum profits. Why should Americans believe you will rein in Wall Street abuses or that you have their economic interests at heart?

– You served in the US Senate for eight years. Donald Trump says the political system is rigged—and that he has benefited by buying influence with lobbyists and contributions. In your time in the Senate, did you see evidence that legislators are indeed influenced by big-money interests and contributors? Can you give examples?

– You attended Donald Trump’s third wedding. Why? Did you like him personally? And why do you think he invited you and your husband?


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