02-19-2017  10:57 am      •     
John Hallloran with the Committee on Presidential Debates looks over the stage before the third presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at UNLV in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — As the long and rancorous campaign lurches toward an end, Donald Trump gets one of his last opportunities in Wednesday night's final debate against Hillary Clinton to turn around a race that appears to be slipping away.

While Clinton's campaign is confidently expanding into traditionally Republican states, Trump's narrow electoral path is shrinking. Already unpopular with a majority of Americans, the GOP nominee has been battered by recent revelations of his vulgar comments about women and a string of sexual assault allegations.

Clinton's challenge in the last of three debates will be to both keep up her aggressive efforts to paint Trump as unfit to be president and start moving to ease America's deep divisions, which have only been exacerbated during the campaign. The latter is no easy task for the Democratic nominee, given the public's persistent questions about her honesty and trustworthiness.

Clinton will face debate questions for the first time about revelations in her top adviser's hacked emails that show her striking a different tone in private than in public regarding Wall Street banks and trade. The Clinton campaign says the FBI is investigating the hacking of John Podesta's personal email as part of a broader inquiry into Russia's role in stealing emails from other Democratic groups.

The former secretary of state is also sure to be pressed about a senior State Department official's request that an FBI employee re-review the classification of an email from Clinton's private server. The now-retired FBI employee asked the State official to address a pending, unrelated request regarding space for additional FBI employees overseas.

The issue was raised after last week's release of an FBI document in which an investigator who talked to the FBI employee said there appeared to be a proposed "quid pro quo." Both the FBI and State Department say the two requests actually were never linked, and the two officials involved say the same. Neither request was approved.

Trump has called the matter "felony corruption" and worse than the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. The Republican National Committee said Wednesday it had written the State Department's inspector general requesting a full investigation.

Wednesday's 90-minute contest in Las Vegas comes just under three weeks before Election Day and with early voting underway in more than 30 states. At least 2.2 million voters have cast ballots already.

Public opinion polls show Clinton leading in nearly all battleground states. On Monday, her campaign stepped up its efforts in Arizona, a state that has voted for a Democratic presidential nominee just once in the past 62 years.

Trump has leaned on an increasingly provocative strategy in the campaign's closing weeks, including contending the election will be rigged, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud in U.S. presidential contests. He's also charged that Clinton attacked and intimidated women involved with her husband's affairs, bringing three women who accused former President Bill Clinton of unwanted sexual contact and even rape to sit in the audience for the second debate. The former president has never been charged with crimes related to the encounters, though he did settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Trump is bringing President Barack Obama's half brother, Trump supporter Malik Obama, as his debate guest Wednesday night . Clinton is bringing billionaire and frequent Trump critic Mark Cuban and Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, one of the former secretary of state's highest-profile Republican backers.

Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said the Democratic nominee "will be ready for whatever scorched-earth tactics (Trump) tries." On MSNBC, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway summed up her advice to her candidate in a word: "Focus."

Clinton, who has meticulously prepared for the three debates at the expense of time in battleground states, visibly rattled Trump in their first showdown by using his own controversial comments about women and minorities against him. The businessman was on defense at the start of the second debate — which came days after the release of a video in which he brags about kissing and grabbing women — but ended on stronger footing, hammering Clinton for being a creature of Washington who won't be able to bring about change.

Trump denied in the second debate that he had made the kind of unwanted sexual advances he is heard describing on the video. His denial prompted some of the women who have since publicly accused him of assault to come forward.

Moderator Chris Wallace — the first Fox News journalist to moderate a general election debate — has said he plans to ask the candidates about debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots and their fitness to be president. He aims to spend 15 minutes on each topic.

 

___

Pace reported from Washington. AP writers Josh Lederman and Hope Yen in Washington and Jill Colvin in Colorado Springs, Colorado, contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC and Lisa Lerer at http://twitter.com/llerer

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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