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Hillary Clinton’s campaign should be reeling from two unflattering news stories this week that play right in Donald Trump’s hands.
But instead, the GOP candidate missed an opportunity by diverting attention away from the Democrat with another unforced error about himself.
Clinton is running a highly disciplined campaign that gives Trump precious few openings to attack. Yet he missed two this week.
The conservative legal group Judicial Watch Tuesday evening released emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that appear to show Clinton aides mixing State Department business with that of the Clinton Foundation, even though the then-secretary of state said she would sever ties with the Foundation when she entered government.
Emails from Foundation officials to State Department include a request to put a Foundation donor in touch with the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, and another asking to find a job for an associate. The emails suggest Clinton aide Huma Abedin followed through on the requests.
And the mere existence of new unreleased emails raise questions, since Clinton has said she turned over all her work-related emails to the State Department, which has since released everything they have.
Meanwhile on Monday, NBC affiliate WPTV spotted the father of Orlando mass shooter Omar Mateen at a Clinton rally in Kissimmee, Florida, prompting outrage from some survivors of the nightclub shooting.
Clinton’s campaign said the rally was open to the public, that they had no idea Seddique Mateen was in the crowd, and Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill later said Clinton "disavows his support" and "disagrees with" some of his more controversial views.
While they merit scrutiny, neither storyline is damning on its own and would need fanning to stay alive more than a day.
The emails may do seem to show some favor trading. But that’s common, if unseemly, in politics, with the State Department itself being one of the best examples, through the long-established practice of giving ambassadorships to large donors to the president's campaigns.
Seddique Mateen, meanwhile, is not implicated in his son’s heinous act, and Clinton has no control over who chooses to support her.
Instead, both are the kind of issues political campaigns typically work to turn into a scandal through multi-platform repetition and feigned outrage. For Trump, both fit perfectly into the image of Clinton he’s trying to paint: that she’s corrupt and that she has a blind spot (or worse) for radical Islamism.
Trump did mention the emails at a campaign stop in Southwestern Virginia Wednesday, saying it was an example of "pay for play” politics and “really, really bad and illegal.” He noted that while Clinton is running for president, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich just lost a bid to have his 14-year sentence for corruption charges reduced.
"The problem is, it'll be big stories for about two minutes and then they're going to drop it because the media is so totally dishonest,” Trump added.
But Trump himself only spent about two minutes on the issue before moving on.
He also briefly mentioned Mateen on Tuesday, and his running mate, vice presidential nominee Mike Pence slammed the media for ignoring the story.
But Trump unwittingly undercut the attack Wednesday evening during a campaign stop in Florida when he said Clinton should know who is on the stage behind her — while disgraced former congressman Mark Foley sat in full view on stage behind Trump.
"Wasn't it terrible when the father of the animal that killed the wonderful people in Orlando was sitting with a big smile on his face right behind Hillary Clinton?” he said before turning to the people behind him. "And by the way, including a lot of the people here — how many of you people know me? A lot of you people know me. When you get those seats, you sort of know the campaign.”
Foley resigned from Congress after allegations surfaced that he had exchanged sexual emails and instant messages with teenage boys who had served in the congressional page program. There’s no evidence Trump specifically knew Foley was in the audience.
Foley later told NBC News that Trump's "been a friend of mine for 30 years and one of my biggest contributors."
Is it a media conspiracy? Maybe. But Google data shows that Americans this week were far more interested in Trump’s comments on Tuesday about what “second amendment people” might do if Clinton wins the presidency than her emails or Mateen.
A Clinton aide said the Lebanese billionaire trying to reach the U.S. ambassador to his country was not seeking a favor, but wanting to share insights on an upcoming election. And Clinton’s aide in the email never followed up on the request, the ambassador told Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler.
As much as Trump says he would prefer coverage of Clinton, he has a tendency to constantly make the story about himself.
This week, it was his comment about “second amendment people.” But it’s hardly the first time a lack of displicple and his self-professed “all press is good press” has backfired.
Loose lips sink good stories. For instance, the day after FBI Director James Comey said Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information on her private email server, Trump offered praise for former Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein.
Last week, Clinton gave a misleading answer on her emails to Fox News Sunday, but Trump decided to continue attacking the Khan family instead of harping on Clinton’s misstep.
Trump and Clinton are each the least popular nominee their party has ever put forward. If the election were a referendum on either of them, they would lose. Trump, for some reason, seems hell-bent on making it about him.