Ossoff Debates Empty Podium, Claims Perdue Skipped Debate So as Not to 'Incriminate Himself'

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Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks during a debate for U.S. Senate, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., December 6, 2020. Ben Gray/Pool via REUTERS
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks during a debate for U.S. Senate, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., December 6, 2020. Ben Gray/Pool via REUTERSCredit: Ben Gray/Pool via REUTERS

Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff debated an empty podium on Sunday night, after Republcan Senator David Perdue refused to show up at the debate for one of the state’s two key senate runoffs on January 5th.

Ossoff suggested Perdue, whose prolific stock trading has drawn attention during the pandemic, declined to debate because he didn’t want to “incriminate himself” over his personal financial activities that the challenger summed up as “cartoonish abuse of power.”

“It shows an astonishing arrogance and sense of entitlement for Georgia’s senior U.S. senator to believe he shouldn’t have to debate at a moment like this in our history,” Ossoff said.

Perdue’s campaign manager responded with an email statement that said Ossoff “lost a debate against himself.” The statement did not address any details of Ossoff’s attacks on the senator. Another Perdue aide followed up with a statement emphasizing that “the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee, DOJ and the SEC ... independently cleared Sen. Perdue of any and all wrongdoing.”

In late October, Perdue also pulled out of the third scheduled general election debate between the two after Ossoff's attacks on Perdue went viral. 

Perdue and Ossoff met for a bitter second debate in Savannah in which Ossoff slammed Perdue for attacking Ossoff's Jewish heritage and called him a “crook” who downplayed the coronavirus pandemic. Perdue denied the accusation.

“First, you were lengthening my nose in attack ads to remind everybody that I’m Jewish,” Ossoff told Perdue during the debate. “Then when that didn’t work, you started calling me some kind of an Islamic terrorist. And then, when then that didn’t work you started calling me a Chinese communist.”

“Instead of leading and inspiring, he stoops to mocking the heritage of his political opponents,” Ossoff later tweeted with a clip of the exchange from the debate.

The Associated Press and other media have reported details of key trades Perdue made after members of Congress began receiving classified briefings about COVID-19 but while Perdue and other officials were downplaying its dangers in public. Perdue’s trades also involved companies whose business activities fall under jurisdiction of some of the senator’s committees.

Ossoff brushed aside a moderator’s reminder that authorities have not found any legal wrongdoing on Perdue’s part. “His blatant abuse of his power and privilege to enrich himself is disgraceful,” Ossoff said. “He can’t defend the indefensible. ... The standard for our elected officials must be higher than merely evading prosecution.”

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