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Trump tried to downplay his pro-Russian tilt in the last debate. Then he proved it.

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

About a third of the way through the final presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump got into it about Russia. Clinton suggested that Vladimir Putin would prefer Trump, given that the mogul has suggested weakening the NATO alliance and working with Russia in Syria. “He'd rather have a puppet as president,” Clinton said, dismissively.

Trump’s response? The old “I’m rubber, you’re glue” defense.

“No puppet, no puppet,” Trump said. “You’re the puppet.”

It’s not clear why, exactly, Trump said that Clinton was actually a Putin puppet. And the irony is that just a few seconds later, Trump basically proved Clinton’s original point by parroting a Russian propaganda line completely.

Trump is covering for a Russian intelligence operation

At this point, there’s very good evidence that Russia is engaging in a hacking campaign targeting Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Hackers linked to Russia by forensic evidence have stolen private emails of Clinton allies and then dumped them to WikiLeaks, which then published them to embarrass and weaken Clinton’s campaign.

On October 7, the US government formally blamed this hacking campaign on Russia. “Based on the scope and sensitivity of these effort ... only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” it said. The Russians have steadily denied the accusation, arguing that it’s not clear who’s done it despite the abundant evidence pointing to them.

At the debate, Clinton accused Trump of trying to hide the evidence of Russian involvement.

“The Russians have engaged in cyber attacks against the United States of America [and] you are willing to spout the Putin line,” she said. “Seventeen intelligence agencies, civilian and military ... have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin.”

Trump’s response? To actually spout the Putin line. Here’s the full exchange:

TRUMP: She has no idea whether it's Russia, China or anybody else.

CLINTON: I am not quoting myself.

TRUMP: She has no idea.

CLINTON: There are 17 —

TRUMP: You have no idea.

CLINTON: 17 intelligence. Do you doubt? 17 military —

TRUMP: Our country has no idea.

CLINTON: And civilian agencies.

TRUMP: I doubt it.

CLINTON: He'd rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely —

TRUMP: She doesn't like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way.

So in response to Clinton accusing Trump of being a patsy for Russia, he proceeds to hack for Russia: denying its role in the DNC hacks and casting Putin as a supergenius constantly outfoxing the US. He is describing the world exactly the way Putin wants it to be described.

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