Putin’s man? Trump denies Clinton’s charge that he’s the one

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Hillary Clinton forcefully accused Donald Trump of favoring Russia’s leader over American military and intelligence experts Wednesday night, as the Republican nominee pointedly refused to accept the U.S. government’s assertion that Moscow has sought to meddle in the presidential election.

In a combative exchange in the final presidential debate, Clinton charged that Russian President Vladimir Putin was backing Trump because “he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.”

Trump denied any relationship with Putin and said he would condemn any foreign interference in the election. But he notably refused to accept the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was involved in the hacking of Democratic organizations. The Clinton campaign has also said the FBI is investigating Russia’s involvement in the hacking of a top adviser’s emails.

The third presidential debate opened with a measured, policy-focused discussion — a stark contrast to the heated and highly personal clashes that defined the earlier contests. However, Trump quickly reverted to his previous style of repeatedly bursting in to interrupt Clinton as well as moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News.

The 90-minute contest in Las Vegas came just under three weeks before Election Day and with early voting underway in more than 30 states.

The candidates outlined starkly different visions for the Supreme Court under their potential presidencies, with the Republican declaring the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion would be overturned by his judicial nominees.

Clinton vowed to appoint justices who would uphold the ruling legalizing abortion, saying, “We have come too far to have that turned back now.”

Trump pressed Clinton on immigration, accusing her of wanting an “open borders” policy, a characterization she vigorously disputes. The Republican, who has called for building a wall the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, said that under a Clinton presidency, “People are going to pour into our country.”

For Trump, the debate marked one of his final chances to reshape a race that appears to be slipping away from him. Clinton’s campaign is confidently expanding into traditionally Republican states, while Trump’s narrow electoral path is shrinking. Already unpopular with a majority of Americans, the GOP nominee has been battered by recent revelations of his vulgar comments about women and a string of sexual assault allegations.

Clinton began the debate with a lead in most battleground states. Her challenge was to both keep up her efforts to paint Trump as unfit to be president and start moving to ease America’s deep divisions, which have only been exacerbated during the campaign. The latter is no easy task for the Democratic nominee, given the public’s persistent questions about her honesty and trustworthiness.

Clinton faced debate questions for the first time about revelations in her top adviser’s hacked emails that show her striking a different tone in private than in public regarding Wall Street banks and trade. She quickly turned the discussion to Russia’s potential role in stealing the emails.

Trump entered the final debate facing a string of sexual assault accusations from women who came forward after he denied in the previous contest that he had kissed or groped women without their consent. Trump’s denial came after the release of a video of in which he’s heard bragging about exactly that.

Trump denied the accusations anew, saying the women coming forward “either want fame or her campaign did it.”

Clinton said Trump “thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth.”
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Pace reported from Washington. AP writers Catherine Lucey, Josh Lederman and Hope Yen in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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