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Lester Holt Was Almost Invisible at the Presidential Debate—Except for One Big Moment

Many eyes were on veteran NBC news anchor Lester Holt to see if he would fact-check the candidates at Monday night’s first presidential debate following weeks of discussion in the media over a moderator’s role in a high-profile debate.

And Holt did have one big moment when he fact-checked Donald Trump. But it took a long while to get to it.

Early on, Holt told the audience at Hofstra University, along with millions of viewers at home, that “the evening belongs to the candidates.” And, for much of the more than 90-minute debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, that was exactly the case, as Holt opted to remain silent for long stretches while allowing the candidates plenty of freedom to talk at length and interrupt one another. Early in the debate, particularly, people watching the debate even went online to ask the question “#WhereIsLester?”

Trump, especially, talked over Holt throughout the debate, while the GOP nominee also frequently interrupted Clinton. Holt allowed Trump and Clinton ample time to respond to one another’s various statements and attacks, but the NBC anchor did push back — especially on one Trump claim that has been a regular point of contention during the election.

Holt refused multiple times to accept Trump’s claim that he opposed the Iraq War before the conflict began. The record shows otherwise,” Holt said in response to Trump’s claim that he opposed the war from the beginning, with Holt citing a 2002 interview in which Trump stated he supported an invasion of Iraq. Later, after the war was already under way, Trump expressed opposition to the war.

Holt also broke his silence to push Trump on a handful of other matters, including the GOP nominee’s long and controversial attempts to question President Obama’s birthplace, with Holt noting that it took five years from the time Obama released his long-form birth certificate for Trump to acknowledge its legitimacy.

Holt also pointed out to Trump that he is “perfectly free to release” his taxes during an IRS audit, which Trump has said he is waiting to end before he makes his tax return public. And, when Trump brought up his support for the polarizing “stop and frisk” policing tactic, Holt noted that the argument against that tactic “is that it’s a form of profiling.”

In the end, Holt saved his fact-checking for a few, spare moments in the debate, and he mostly focused on Trump’s statements. That latter fact drew the ire of some conservatives.

For his part, Holt closed out the evening by referring to the first Clinton-Trump face-off as a “spirited” debate.