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Giuliani forced to go on the defensive Questioned at debate on spending as mayor

On a day when Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani found himself fending off charges of inappropriate spending practices while he was New York City mayor, eight GOP challengers Wednesday faced tough questions from average citizens who submitted them via YouTube.

Yet it was a journalist, CNN's Anderson Cooper, who asked the question that roiled the GOP race after the Politico, a Washington news Web site, reported that obscure city agencies had paid huge security expenses connected with Giuliani's trips to Long Island to visit the mistress who is now his wife.

"They say that as mayor, the report says you took trips to the Hamptons and expensed the cost of your police detail to obscure city offices," Cooper said, asking if the report was true and if the practice was appropriate.

"First of all, it's not true," Giuliani said, acknowledging that he had 24-hour security throughout his two terms as mayor to protect him against the many serious threats he faced.

"They took care of me, and they put in their records, and they handled them in the way they handled them," Giuliani said. "I had nothing to do with the handling of their records, and they were handled, as far as I know, perfectly appropriately."

That's not what the Politico said. Using documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the report said $34,000 worth of Giuliani's travel expenses were billed to the New York City Loft Board, while the Assigned Counsel Administrative Office paid about $400,000 for Giuliani's travel security.

The Politico reported that those expenses were connected to Giuliani's trips to visit Judith Nathan, whom Giuliani was having an affair with at the time and whom the mayor later married.

While Giuliani quickly and confidently responded to the question about the expenses controversy, there were many more confrontational moments during the two-hour debate, which featured a series of unconventional and sometimes emotional questions.

The trademark issue of the GOP campaign -- immigration took center stage as soon as the debate opened.

Responding to questions posed not by journalists but by average citizens who recorded their queries on YouTube, Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney traded harsh accusations over which candidate had a worse record on immigration.

The fireworks started after a questioner asked Giuliani if New York was a "sanctuary city" for undocumented aliens during his tenure as mayor. Giuliani said no, adding that illegal immigrants were given benefits in only a handful of circumstances.

That prompted Romney to throw Giuliani's words from many years ago back at him.

"The mayor said -- and I quote almost verbatim -- 'If you happen to be in this country in an undocumented status, and that means you're here illegally, then we welcome you here. We want you here. We'll protect you here.' That's the wrong attitude. Instead, we should say, 'If you're here illegally, you should not be here.' "

Giuliani hit back hard: "It's unfortunate, but Mitt generally criticizes people in a situation in which he's had far the worse record. For example, in his case, there were six sanctuary cities [in Massachusetts]. He did nothing about them. There was even a sanctuary mansion. At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed."

Romney acknowledged that illegal immigrants had worked at the governor's mansion during his tenure but said it was only because a company he hired had employed them. He said he can't be held responsible for that.

That was just one of many difficult moments for Romney. He found himself again explaining his move from a pro-choice to a pro-life position on abortion and engaged in a difficult exchange with Sen. John McCain of Arizona over whether the interrogation practice called "waterboarding" -- a simulated drowning -- constitutes torture.

Romney said he thought it was inappropriate for a presidential candidate to discuss particular interrogation tactics, and McCain -- a retired Navy aviator who endured five years of captivity in Vietnam -- reacted viscerally.

"Governor, let me tell you, if we're going to gain the high ground in this world, we're not going to torture people," McCain said. "How in the world someone could think that that kind of thing could be inflicted on people who are in our custody is absolutely beyond me."

McCain also had an angry exchange with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, over the Iraq War.

After Paul said that bringing the troops home could save up to $1 trillion, McCain said: "That kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II."

Those comments prompted both cheers and boos from the crowd at a local concert hall.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee was folksy and charming in response to questions, but he threw punches in his YouTube video, highlighting Romney's flip-flop on abortion and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's record of increasing taxes.

While the questions touched on all the major issues of the campaign, the session also featured unconventional and occasionally emotional questions.

While many of the candidates seemed to struggle with the more unconventional questions, Huckabee, a Baptist minister, responded eloquently to a question about the meaning of the Bible:

"As the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite God, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their God is too small."
Huckabee answered with aplomb when asked: "The death penalty -- what will Jesus do?" After a description of the detailed process he went through on deciding about an execution, Huckabee added: "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office."


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