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Mud-raking in US campaigns
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 23 - 08 - 2016

Recent opinion polls showed that Republican Party candidate in the upcoming presidential elections Donald Trump has slightly narrowed a seven to nine point gap in favour of his rival Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton by seeking to shift his aggressive tone on immigration. He has admitted “making mistakes” in some of his earlier remarks and has appealed to African-American voters.
There was also more good news for the tycoon businessman on Monday when a conservative group released hundreds of emails from one of Clinton's closest aides, Huma Abedin, which implied that the Clinton Foundation, run by her husband former US president Bill Clinton, had sought favours from the state department when she served as secretary of state in US President Barack Obama's first administration.
According to the New York Times, the emails included an appeal by Douglas Band, a Clinton Foundation executive, for Hillary Clinton to meet with Bahrain's crown prince, whose family had contributed millions of dollars to the foundation.
Band also appealed to her to help arrange an interview in the British embassy to get a visa for a member of the UK Wolverhampton Football Club who had a criminal charge against him, the paper added. Band was helping Casey Wasserman, a sports marketing executive who had donated money to the Clinton Foundation. Wasserman is co-chairman of a fund-raiser Hillary was due to attend this week in Beverly Hills in California.
Trump immediately urged the US justice department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate if donors to the Clinton Foundation had received special treatment from the state department when it was run by Clinton. He made the appeal at a rally before thousands of cheering supporters in Akron, Ohio, as he tried to rebound from a slide in national opinion polls with little more than two months to go until the 8 November elections.
Trump accused former president Bill Clinton and his wife of turning the Clinton Foundation into a “pay-for-play” scheme in which wealthy donors, foreign and domestic, received favours from the state department during Hillary Clinton's 2009-2013 tenure as the country's top diplomat.
Trump faulted both the justice department and the FBI for not indicting Clinton over her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. FBI director James Comey cited her careless handling of classified emails but opted not to prosecute her.
“The justice department is required to appoint a special prosecutor because it has proved to be, sadly, a political arm of the White House,” Trump said. “Nobody has ever seen anything like it before.”
The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch released 725 pages of state department documents, claiming some were examples of the preferential treatment provided to donors at the request of Clinton Foundation executive Douglas Band.
Trump's call for an independent investigation followed an announcement by the Clinton Foundation that it would no longer accept foreign donations should Clinton be elected president.
The Clinton campaign fired back at Trump, saying the foundation had already laid out “the unprecedented steps the charity will take if Hillary Clinton becomes president”.
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said in a statement that Trump “needs to come clean with voters about his complex network” of businesses that are in debt to the banks, including the state-owned Bank of China, after a New York Times report on the subject.
“Donald Trump should stop hiding behind fake excuses and release his tax returns and immediately disclose the full extent of his business interests,” Podesta said.
While keeping up the attack on Clinton, Trump also outlined other agenda items that Republicans have been urging him to do for months. The comments followed a campaign shake-up last week that brought in veteran pollster Kellyanne Conway as Trump's campaign manager and Steve Bannon, a Breitbart News executive, as the campaign's chief executive.
Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort resigned earlier this week after the authorities announced that his ties to pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine were under investigation.
Trump, who has angered almost all America's minorities, especially Muslims, whom he said should be banned from entering the US, also marked a major shift in tone when he expressed regret for sometimes saying “the wrong thing,” a rare expression of contrition.
Trump and running mate Mike Pence also visited flood-ravaged Baton Rouge in the southern state of Louisiana, where many African-Americans helped unload a truck full of supplies the campaign said Trump himself had donated. Louisiana Democratic Party governor John Bel Edwards said the trip had been “helpful” in calling attention to his state's plight while defending Obama's choice to delay a visit until this week.
“Leaders show up where people in need are, and they hear them, and they help them, and you saw that on full display on Friday,” Trump's new campaign manager said on CNN's State of the Union programme on Sunday.
Clinton has not visited Louisiana, saying she had spoken with the governor and had decided a visit would be a distraction to the community.
Trump also indicated this week that he might be willing to moderate some of his hard-line positions on immigration that have been a central theme of his campaign. While Conway said that Trump had stuck to what he had earlier said in a Saturday meeting with a Hispanic advisory council, she said it was “to be determined” whether he would back away from a deportation force that would round up undocumented immigrants, as Trump has said he will set up in the past.
In his Akron remarks, Trump, struggling to broaden his support beyond the white working-class voters who have been his basis of support, again urged US African-Americans and Hispanics to give him a chance, asking “what the hell do you have to lose” and repeating a line he delivered on Friday that was criticised by Clinton as “ignorant.”
Trump said Democratic Party politicians had not been able to stem crime and poverty in US inner cities despite pledges to do so every election year. “I say it, and I'm going to keep saying it, and some people say ‘wow that makes sense' and some people say ‘that's not very nice,'” Trump said. “And I say it with such deep-felt feeling, what do you have to lose? We'll bring jobs back. We'll bring spirit back. We'll get rid of the crime.”
But in a sign that organisational challenges remain, Trump cancelled a rally planned for this week in Las Vegas, known as a centre for Hispanic immigrants to the US, and postponed an immigration speech in Denver.
“I have always been the same person and remain true to myself. The media wants me to change, but it would be very dishonest to supporters to do so,” Trump tweeted last week before he overhauled his campaign. “I am who I am,” he added.
However, the days following the tweets brought his first admission of regret in this campaign and efforts to directly appeal to minority voters. “I think that he is getting into a groove,” Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus said on Sunday.
“I think he likes the new style that he has been out on the campaign trail producing and speaking of. So I think he's done great. And I think what you're going to see is these polls will begin to tighten in the next couple of weeks and by Labour Day or thereafter I think you're going to be back to an even race if we continue down this path,” Priebus said.
Clinton's campaign has downplayed the significance of any apparent reset in the Trump campaign. In an interview with ABC's This Week programme on Sunday, campaign manager Robby Mook criticised the hiring of Bannon as the campaign's chief executive and repeated the Democrats' criticism of Breitbart.
“We're not seeing a pivot,” Mook said. “Donald Trump himself said this was not a pivot. He wants to double down on letting Donald Trump be Donald Trump, that's why he's brought in to run his campaign someone who wrote, or ran a so-called news organisation, Breitbart News, which has peddled some of the worst conspiracy theories around. They've run news, quote unquote ‘news,' that's defended white supremacists, that's been sexist, racist, the worst of our politics. So, I think we should be very concerned,” he concluded.

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