Was the First Presidential Debate Rigged?

On Monday, September 26, Hofstra University and CBS hosted the first U.S. Presidential Debate of 2016. Lester Holt moderated. Secretary Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Mr. Donald Trump for the Republicans opposed each other in the arena. Around 84 million people eventually viewed the debate.

I'd like to share my thoughts on what I see as red flags in the first debate, since even if you disagree with me, the most entertaining part of politics is exchanging views with each other.

Mr. Trump's Microphone

You may recall that, after the first debate, Mr. Trump complained that there was something wrong with his microphone. Apparently it kept cutting out. Both he and the live audience could hear the problem, but the 84 million people viewing the debate remotely could not. As a debater, I can tell you that a bad microphone is very distracting. It is a genuine audio handicap.

The next day, Secretary Clinton ridiculed him for complaining. A couple of days ago, First Lady Michelle Obama also ridiculed Mr. Trump about the microphone.

It turns out that Secretary Clinton and the First Lady were making fun of someone who was genuinely audio impaired. On Friday, September 30, The Hill reported Mr. Trump was correct.


The Commission on Presidential Debates issued a one-sentence statement Friday [emphasis added] admitting "issues" with Donald Trump's audio in this cycle's first debate Monday.

"Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump's audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall," the statement read.

After Mr. Trump pointed out the problem, and after Secretary Clinton made a point of ridiculing her opponent as if she disbelieved him, the debate commission issued its statement consisting of one sentence at the slowest point of the news cycle, a Friday afternoon. Even First Lady Michelle Obama--who would never intentionally ridicule someone audio impaired (and after all, the debates should be fair)--missed it.

It seems the commission owes us a fuller explanation about the bad microphone and the timing of the statement.

The Folder

Now let's have some fun. At the very end of the debate, an unidentified man collected a folder from Secretary Clinton's podium. Nothing was collected from Mr. Trump's podium. Then, it appeared as if the man handed off the folder to moderator Lester Holt. But to see this, you have to watch your own DVR recording (or other full recording), because neither the CBS or NBC uploaded versions include this incident at the very end. If it has not already been censored, you may still be able to view it on this Twitter feed, or at this YouTube account.

The mystery man walked up to Holt, gave a slight nod, and seemed to hand Holt the folder. But there is room for doubt. It isn't clear from the video that the mystery man actually handed the folder to Holt. He may have simply shifted hands to shake Lester's hand. The full debate footage cuts away at the key moment.

I love a mystery. Who is the man with the folder, and why hasn't anyone asked him and Mr. Holt about it? What was in the folder, and why was there a folder only at Secretary Clinton's podium? The Commission on Presidential Debates seems to have dropped the ball again.

The Questions

Why didn't Holt ask Secretary Clinton even one juicy question along the lines of what Diane Sawyer asked about Benghazi, Libya? According to ABC News, "Hillary's war" was the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Her friend, Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, his aide Sean Smith, and two Navy Seals were killed during the attack on the compound in Benghazi.

In a segment titled "Hillary Clinton: Public and Private," Diane Sawyer conducted a one-on-one interview with Secretary Clinton (ABC News, June 9, 2014.) Sawyer notes that the last words in the Ambassador Stevens' diary were: "never ending security threats..."

Sawyer asked whether then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did everything she could or should have done to secure the U.S.'s Benghazi compound in Libya on the 2012 anniversary of 9/11. Here is the key exchange (@22:00):

Clinton: There is a long list of countries where there are security threats to American interests.

Sawyer:
But these were the highest, among the highest security threats.

Clinton: No, well, it would be in the top twenty-five.

Sawyer, clearly skeptical, gives Clinton the look.

Clinton: It was, it was not...

Sawyer: Not in the top five? Top ten? Benghazi?

Clinton: Maybe, maybe, in the top upper ten, but there were places where we had much more concern.

Sawyer's voice over in a cutaway to footage of the attack: "But should she have known the situation in Benghazi was deteriorating fast? A cable in August, a month before the attack, warns about vulnerability. There had been two bomb attacks on the mission in the last six months. The Red Cross had pulled out of Benghazi. The British had left too.

Sawyer again to Clinton: You know the criticism is, it was a glaring flashing red crisis there. The British were pulling out. There had already been attacks. There were cables being sent. Did you miss it? Did you miss the moment to prevent this from happening?

Clinton: No.

Yet four men are dead, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.

Lester Holt asked Mr. Trump whether he supported the Iraq War, and even seemed to debate him when Mr. Trump said he had not. But Holt did not ask Secretary Clinton the same question. At the time, she was a Senator, and she voted for the Iraq War. Unlike Trump, as a Senator, she had access to better information. Yet he, and not she, was grilled. I'm for equality; why did Holt pass over Secretary Clinton?

Then there's the FBI investigation that revealed Secretary Clinton lied to the public for years about her email server. Her server was a breach of national security protocol. The Clinton Foundation accepted money from foreign donors while Secretary Clinton was in a position to cut deals, and did cut deals. That isn't to say the money directly influenced Secretary Clinton's decisions, but any conscious person would ask about it. Yet, Holt did not ask the tough questions.

The Next Debates

Whatever your political persuasion, I hope you are looking forward to seeing how the upcoming debates are conducted. The first Presidential Debate is over, but I'm more curious than ever to see what happens in the second Presidential Debate on Sunday, October 9 (9pm ET, 8pm CT, 7pm MT, 6pm PT) and the third debate on Wednesday, October 19. I hope everyone will watch and draw his or her own conclusions, and I hope to see you, and all of my fellow Americans, at the polls on Tuesday, November 8.