The final presidential face-off on Wednesday night could put Hillary Clinton under more pressure than she confronted in two earlier debates — and even more than her opponent Donald Trump faces.
WikiLeaks and FBI documents released this week offer Republican Trump and the moderators fresh fodder against the Democratic Clinton.
In one key area, an unnamed official in the FBI’s records office accused Patrick Kennedy, an undersecretary of state, of pressing to have a classified email unclassified last year in a “quid pro quo” arrangement.
Purportedly in exchange, the State Department would allow the FBI to put agents in more countries. The department denies such a deal. The allegation was noted in an FBI memo.
Then there’s a controversial campaign email exchange from WikiLeaks involving a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who cited “powerful elements of the conservative movement” that are “all Catholic.”
Campaign official Jennifer Palmieri replied: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.”
In further fodder, campaign polling expert Joel Benenson confidentially wrote to a colleague in February: “Do we have any sense from her what she believes or wants her core message to be?”
Trump, of course, faces trouble of his own, with his personal conduct in the cross-hairs as he denies numerous claims from women that he groped them in ways of which he bragged in what he later called “locker room” talk.
But it is unclear how in the debate Clinton can draw more advantage from the assault allegations against her opponent than she already gained.
Still, Trump is due for new questioning about some of his more toxic supporters. In one of the zanier statements of the season, Russian ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky warned last week that the U.S. should elect Trump — or face nuclear war.
Trump, who cryptically declared himself unshackled, can put on a nothing-to-lose show on his own terms, weave the conspiracy theories and maybe find something that scores against Clinton.
How she faces down Trump at his potentially most ferocious will be worth watching — especially since even some of her ever-worried supporters complain that every time she leads in this race, she seems to find a way to slip up.
Also, this is Fox News’ turn to host a debate. Despite Trump’s nasty denunciations of moderator Megyn Kelly during the primaries, the network has since served as a relatively friendly platform for Trump as he pre-emptively blames other news media for “rigging” the election against him.
Chris Wallace is due to moderate. As for real-time fact-checking, “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad,” Wallace announced last month. “It’s up to the other person to catch them on that.”