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Presidential debate gets personal as Trump seeks to salvage sinking campaign

Robyn Beck, AFP | Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 9, 2016

Donald Trump attacked Hillary Clinton's husband Bill Clinton over past allegations of sexual assault in a heated and often bitter second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton in St Louis, Missouri, on Sunday night.


With all the attention on Trump in the run-up to the debate at Washington University and his remarks about women in a 2005 recording leaked last week, the Republican presidential candidate sought to go on the offensive from the outset.

Trump said he was embarrassed by the video but dismissed it as "locker room talk". President Bill Clinton had done worse to women, he said.

"Mine are words and his are action," said Trump, who appeared before the debate with women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. Bill Clinton never faced any criminal charges in relation to the allegations, and a lawsuit over an alleged rape was dismissed. He did settle a lawsuit with one of the women who claimed harassment.

Trump also accused Hillary Clinton of going on the attack against women who had alleged sexual misconduct by her husband, president from 1993-2001.

Clinton responded that Trump's comments showed he was unfit for the White House.

"He has said the video doesn't represent who he is but I think it's clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is," Clinton said.

'Hate in her heart'

Trump also attacked Clinton directly, at one point claiming the Democratic candidate had "tremendous hate in her heart" and vowed that if he won the White House, he would put Hillary Clinton in jail for operating a private email server while US secretary of state.

The frosty tone of the town hall-style debate, where members of the audience were given the chance to ask questions, was set from the start as the two candidates greeted each other without the traditional handshake.

Trump, giving a noticeably more aggressive performance than during the first debate, also turned his ire on the moderators, Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC News, saying the debate was "three on one".

The two candidates clashed on a series of other contentious issues, including the war in Syria, healthcare and taxes.

Trump, in a badgering tone, offered a blistering critique of Clinton's handling of foreign policy as secretary of state, repeatedly calling it a failure.

"She talks tough, she talks really tough," Trump said. "She talks about the rebels, she doesn't even know who the rebels are."

Taking a breath through his nose with a loud sniff, he continued, "The fact is almost everything she's done in foreign policy has been a mistake and a disaster."

Trump disagrees with running mate Pence

Trump also said he disagreed with Mike Pence, his vice presidential running mate, who declared last week in his debate against Clinton's No. 2 Tim Kaine that the United States should be prepared to use military force if needed in Syria. "He and I haven't spoken and I disagree," Trump said.

Clinton, meanwhile, attacked Trump over his past comments on refugees and immigrants, including a proposed ban on Muslims entering the country.

"It is important for us not to say, as Donald Trump has said, that we are going to ban people based on religion," she said.

"We are a country founded on religious freedom and liberty. How are we going to do that without causing great distress in our country?"

She added that his words were "extremely unwise".

Trump, though, was unrepentant, claiming that allowing immigrants into the country without more scrutiny was the "Greatest Trojan Horse of all time".

The debate did end on a slightly more friendly note after the candidates were asked to name a characteristic they admired about their opponent.

Clinton says she respected Trump's children, a comment Trump called "a very nice compliment", while Trump in turn said he sees Clinton as a "fighter".

"She does fight hard and doesn't give up and I consider that a very good trait," he said.

The candidates will meet for a third and final debate on October 19 in Las Vegas.


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