Clinton, Trump on defensive in national security forum


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NEW YORK — Hillary Clinton spent a third of the time fending off questions about her emails. Donald Trump struggled to explain his secret plan to defeat the Islamic State.
Both presidential candidates walked into Wednesday night’s national security forum seeking to prove themselves ready to serve as commander in chief. Clinton sought to showcase her superior experience, and Trump to indict her foreign policy along with President Barack Obama’s. Instead, both almost immediately found themselves on the defensive.

The Democratic nominee, appearing first at the “Commander-in-Chief Forum” held by NBC News and a veteran’s group, was hit with a barrage of detailed questions about her use of a private email system as secretary of state, as well as her initial support of the Iraq war — both of which she has called mistakes.

Her Republican counterpart, meanwhile, faced broader queries about his qualifications for the Oval Office, his many past controversial statements about the state of the military, and even his apparent admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The result was a scattered hour at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum that set the stage for a particularly bitter lead-up to the first presidential debate in under three weeks — where the candidates will not be constrained by the guidelines put in place on Wednesday by moderator Matt Lauer that they should refrain from attacking each other.

The evening began on shaky footing for Clinton almost immediately, as she carefully weighed her answer to Lauer’s opening question about the FBI’s conclusion that she was “extremely careless” in handling classified information.

“I have a lot of experience dealing with classified material,” Clinton said defensively, her jaw setting. “Classified material has a header which has ’top secret,’ ’secret,’ ‘confidential.’ Nothing — and I will repeat this, and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice, none of the emails sent or received by me had such a header,” she explained.

It took Clinton nearly one-third of her allotted half-hour to work in a shot at her GOP rival, but her opening answer — that a commander-in-chief must have “absolute rock steadiness” — was also a potential dig at a man her campaign has portrayed as erratic and untested.

Clinton noted that Trump, who appeared at the forum separately, supported invading Iraq, but found herself forced to answer yet again why she had voted to give President George W. Bush the green light.
“I think the decision to go to war in Iraq, and I have said that my voting to give President Bush that authority was, from my perspective, my mistake,” she said, promising yet again not to commit ground troops to Iraq “ever again” and ruling out additional ground troops in Syria.

“I also believe that it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes like after-action reports are supposed to do, so we must learn what led us down that path so it never happens again,” she said.
Trump, appearing after Clinton, insisted to Lauer that he had opposed the war — despite telling radio host Howard Stern in 2002 that he supported it — quickly turning to criticize the current state of American foreign policy under Obama.

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