Biden and Trump clash on corruption, coronavirus and taxes in heated final debate

© Morry Gash President Trump and Joe Biden face off during Thursday night's debate in Nashville.

President Trump sought to make Thursday night’s final debate about unsubstantiated corruption accusations against Joe Biden’s family, but the Democratic challenger dismissed the matter as “a bunch of garbage” and zeroed in on the badly trailing incumbent’s widely-reviled coronavirus response instead.

The final debate in Nashville, less than two weeks before Election Day, was Trump’s last opportunity to make a major splash in the race as most national polls show him losing to Biden by double digits.

But instead of trying to broaden his appeal, Trump dedicated a large chunk of his debate performance to twisting the knives of unverified accusations of dubious origin that claim Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, was involved in corrupt business dealings overseas with his father’s help.

“All of the emails, the emails, the horrible emails of the kind of money that you were raking in, you and your family … It should never have happened,” Trump said.

Later on in the debate, he shouted, “It’s the laptop from hell.”

Trump’s rambling referred to accusations pushed by a fact-challenged right-wing tabloid that mostly revolve around messages about Ukraine found on a laptop that Hunter Biden supposedly dropped off at a computer repair shop in Delaware last year and which then somehow ended up in Rudy Giuliani’s possession.

The president, who has repeatedly downplayed COVID-19 despite knowing since early on about its dangers, also went after his native New York because of its rigorous social distancing protocols, which have helped make the city’s coronavirus infection rates one of the lowest in the country.

“If you go and look at what’s happened to New York, it’s a ghost town, it’s a ghost town,” Trump said. “Take a look at New York, what’s happened to my wonderful city, for so many years I loved it. It’s dying. Everybody’s leaving New York.”

Biden punched back: “Take a look at what New York has done in terms of turning the curve down, in terms of the number of people dying.”

On the laptop front, the alleged emails offer no proof of wrongdoing on either Joe or Hunter Biden’s part, and U.S. intelligence experts say the sketchy accusations have hallmarks of potentially being part of an interference operation by Russia, which is meddling in the election to help Trump.

Biden tried to quickly put Trump’s claims to bed by noting that his own administration has affirmed that Giuliani worked with a Russian spy as part of a Ukraine-related smear campaign that prompted the president’s impeachment last year.

“Five former heads of the CIA, both parties, say what he’s saying is a bunch of garbage. Nobody believes it except him and his good friend Rudy Giuliani,” Biden said of the former New York mayor.

The former vice president also noted that he has released his tax returns — contrary to Trump — and that they prove he hasn’t taken in any foreign cash.

“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” he said with a raised voice. “You have not released a single solitary year of your tax returns. What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling?”

Trump defended his refusal to release his long-sought tax returns because he claimed they’re under “audit” and disputed recent reports that he only paid $750 in federal income tax in 2017.

“I prepaid millions and millions of dollars in taxes,” Trump said.

Since he has refused to release his tax returns, though, Trump’s statements can’t be verified. In addition, the IRS has said Trump can release his returns even if they are under audit.

President Trump and Joe Biden face off during Thursday night’s debate in Nashville. (Morry Gash/)

Steering the conversation away from the murky tax and email matters, Biden expressed fear that the U.S. is about to face a “dark winter” because of Trump’s push to scrap social distancing restrictions despite the U.S. coronavirus death toll soaring above 225,000.

“We’re about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter, and he has no clear plan,” Biden said.

Trump disagreed.

“We’re not going to have a dark winter at all,” he said. “We’re opening up our country.”

Trump also claimed that a COVID-19 vaccine will be “announced within weeks,” a timeline that contradicts even the most optimistic projections offered by public health experts.

When pressed by moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News on the vaccine claim, Trump conceded that he may have oversold it a bit.

“It’s not a guarantee … but I think it has a good chance,” he said.

Unlike last month’s chaotic first debate, the organizers muted the candidates to ensure they each had two full minutes uninterrupted to deliver opening answers on six major topics that were on the table for the evening. The mute button wasn’t used after the opening answers.

Unlike past debates, the candidates also got to speak — albeit briefly — about climate change.

Biden laid out a plan for combating climate change and investing massively in renewable energy sources like wind. He also took issue with Trump’s frequent dismissal of the science on the crisis.

“We’re going to be in real trouble,” Biden said of the idea of four more years of Trump.

Trump, meanwhile, offered a peculiar reason for why he believes the U.S. can’t give up on fossil fuels.

“I know more about wind than you do. It’s extremely expensive. Kills all the birds,” he said, prompting Biden to chuckle.

Though it got ugly at times, the Thursday night showdown was far more civil than the first debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29, during which Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and lobbed nasty, deeply personal attacks against the former vice president’s family.

There were supposed to be three presidential debates this year, but the second one got scrapped after Trump refused the organizers’ demand that it be held virtually because of its proximity to his being diagnosed with COVID-19.

Whether or not the two presidential debates changed any voters’ minds is anyone’s guess.

However, more than 42 million Americans have already cast their ballots as part of major uptick in early voting and mail-in voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Moreover, polls show that very few voters remain undecided at this stage in the race, in large part because Trump is viewed as the most politically polarizing president in modern American history.

Source: Daily News