Trump and Biden Discuss Trump’s Conviction During First Presidential Debate

After Donald Trump was convicted of a felony, a historic first for a former U.S. President, the guilty verdict was expected to be a topic neither Trump—who has repeatedly maintained the claim that he was politically targeted—nor President Joe Biden could stay away from.

But instead of being a major focal point of the debate, Trump’s conviction only came up for the first time more than 45 minutes into the over 90-minute debate moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash—and it was only mentioned during one less than five-minute segment.

“The only person in this stage [who] is a convicted felon is the man I’m looking at right now,” Biden said during a back and forth about the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot in 2021 and protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in 2020 after Trump suggested that Republican demonstrators were treated unfairly by the courts and Congress.

“The fact is that there was no effort on his part to stop what was going on up on Capitol Hill,” Biden said. “And all those people, every one of those that are convicted, deserves to be convicted,” he added. “The idea that those people are patriots? Come on.” 

In an immediate follow-up question, Tapper asked Trump to clarify what he meant when he said publicly after his conviction that he would “retribute” against his political opponents.

“My retribution is going to be success,” Trump replied. “We’re going to make this country successful again, because right now, it’s a failing nation.”

Trump then turned the discussion toward Biden and his son Hunter, the first son of a sitting U.S. President to be convicted of a felony when he was convicted earlier this month of three felony charges for lying about his drug use when he bought a gun in 2018.

“When he talks about a convicted felon, his son is a convicted felon at a very high level. His son is convicted, going to be convicted probably numerous other times, should have been convicted before,” Trump said.

He also suggested Biden could face prosecution, saying: “He could be a convicted felon as soon as he gets out of office. Joe could be a convicted felon with all of the things that he’s done.” Trump cited “all of the death caused at the border” (likely referencing cases of migrant deaths, which are frequently attributed to the harsh conditions of the journey) as well as a popular right-wing conspiracy theory that Biden, when he was Vice President, improperly leveraged a $1 billion loan to Ukraine to remove a prosecutor who Trump and his allies have repeatedly claimed was investigating Hunter Biden. (Joe Biden has admitted to pressuring Ukraine to remove the prosecutor for corruption, unrelated to his son.)

“This man is a criminal. This man, you’re lucky,” Trump added about Biden. ​​“We have a system that was rigged and disgusting. I did nothing wrong.”

Biden shot back: “The idea that I did anything wrong relative to what you’re talking about is outrageous,” pointing to Trump’s many past and pending legal troubles, including being sued for sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll. “Think of all the civil penalties you have. How many billions of dollars do you owe in civil penalties for molesting a woman in public? For doing a whole range of things? Of having sex with a porn star on the night while your wife was pregnant? What are you talking about? You have the morals of an alley cat.”

“I didn’t have sex with a porn star,” Trump responded. (According to Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who was at the center of the scandal, the sexual encounter she had with Trump that he paid her to keep silent about took place a few days before Trump’s wife Melania gave birth to their son Baron.) Trump also said that his conviction was politically-motivated—claiming that the prosecutors and judge were “all high ranking Democrats”—but that his campaign has benefited as a result “because the public knows it’s a scam.”

When Biden was asked if the millions of Americans voting for Trump “will be voting against American democracy,” he said: “more they know about what he’s done, yes.”

“And there’s a lot more coming. He’s got a lot of cases down the road,” Biden said, likely referring to Trump’s other legal troubles over allegations including election interference and mishandling of classified documents. “I don’t know what the juries will do, but I do know he has a real problem.”