E-mails, taxes and sex scandals: 5 hot talking points that fired up the election campaign

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (right) with her vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine (left); and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (second from right) with his vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence (right). Mrs Clinton a
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (right) with her vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine (left); and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (second from right) with his vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence (right). Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump face off on Nov 8 in the US presidential elections. PHOTO: EPA

It's an election that will leave scars in the United States' political landscape for years to come.

Over the past year and a half, a "post-truth" atmosphere has seen ample mud flung against a landscape of emboldened far-right white supremacists and a resurgence of Cold War tensions between the US and Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Mrs Hillary Clinton has maintained a steady, if small, lead in the polls ahead of her rival, billionaire Donald Trump.

But both candidates have hit bumps in the road to 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Straits Times takes one last look at five talking points that moved the needle in the race.

1. FBI INVESTIGATIONS - YES, PLURAL


The FBI's review of new emails did not uncover any wrongdoing by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and the bureau has not changed its July recommendation not to charge her, Director James Comey told lawmakers on Nov 6. PHOTO: AFP

The Federal Bureau of Investigation spent a good part of 2015 and 2016 trawling through e-mails sent by Mrs Clinton during her tenure as US Secretary of State. She was accused of carelessly handling sensitive information by using private e-mail servers to do government business.

 
 

The controversy has dogged her through the entire campaign, and opponents have used it to attack her on everything from allegations of corruption in the Clinton Foundation to supposed culpability in the deaths of American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya.

FBI director James Comey had seemed to lay the matter to rest in a statement in July. Mrs Clinton suffered from his judgment that she and her staff were "extremely careless" but benefited from the FBI's recommendation that the Department of Justice not bring forward criminal charges.

However, with less than two weeks to go to Election Day, Mr Comey announced on Oct 28 that the FBI would re-open the investigation into Mrs Clinton's e-mails upon discovery of a fresh batch on a computer belonging to disgraced politician Anthony Weiner.

The former congressman is the estranged husband of Mrs Clinton's close aide Huma Abedin.

The resurrection of the e-mail controversy shook Mrs Clinton's advantage in the polls, even though Mr Comey clarified on Nov 6 that the FBI stood by its July conclusion that "no reasonable prosecutor" would pursue charges against Mrs Clinton.

2. SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATIONS - YES, PLURAL


Attorney Gloria Allred (L) holds a press conference with Summer Zervos, a former candidate on The Apprentice, who is accusing US presidential candidate Donald Trump of inappropriate sexual conduct. PHOTO: AFP

To date, 17 women have come forward accusing Mr Trump of sexual harassment or assault.

He has been haunted by such allegations since the 1990s, including one accusation made by ex-wife Ivana in depositions for their acrimonious divorce.

But incontrovertible evidence turned up on Oct 7, when The Washington Post obtained and published a 2005 video of Mr Trump bragging that his fame and power allowed him to "do anything" with women.

He could even "grab them" by the genitals with impunity, Mr Trump was caught saying on camera.

The sexual assault scandal was the final straw for many who had been lukewarm about Mr Trump, and overshadowed the second televised presidential debate on Oct 9.

Debate moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz grilled Mr Trump aggressively about his behaviour towards women.

"You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals," Cooper told the Republican candidate early in the debate. "That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?"

More women quickly came forward with fresh accusations of assault that dated back decades, including two who gave detailed accounts to The New York Times in an article published on Oct 12.

3. BILLIONAIRE TAX BOMBSHELLS


Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump cuts the ribbon on his new hotel in Washington, DC, on Oct 26, 2016. PHOTO; REUTERS

To prove that there is no funny business in their finances, Mrs Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine have both released their own tax returns, with Mrs Clinton's going as far back as 1977.

But Mr Trump has repeatedly refused to do the same, in a break with presidential candidates' tradition of tax disclosure.

On Oct 1, The New York Times unexpectedly revealed that a whistle-blower had provided the newspaper with a copy of Mr Trump's 1995 tax returns, which showed that he had declared a US$916 million dollar loss that would theoretically allow him to avoid paying taxes for the next 18 years.

Mr Trump seemed to confirm these suspicions in the second presidential debate, when Cooper posed what he called "a simple question": "Did you use that $916 million loss to avoid paying personal federal income taxes for years?"

"Of course I do," Mr Trump replied. "Of course I do."

The New York Times followed up on its investigation into Mr Trump's taxes with an Oct 31 article suggesting that Mr Trump employed "a tax avoidance manoeuvre so legally dubious his own lawyers advised him that the Internal Revenue Service would most likely declare it improper if he were audited".

4. PNEUMONIA (AND OTHER SNIFFLES)


Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton leaves her daughter Chelsea's home in New York on Sept 11, 2016, after Mrs Clinton left ceremonies commemorating the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump are some of the oldest potential presidents in US history, which has prompted concerns about their physical and mental capacity for the position.

Mr Trump has frequently stoked speculation about Mrs Clinton's health, and she seemed to confirm supporters' fears when she abruptly left a New York memorial ceremony for the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

Her doctor later said she had had a bout of pneumonia and dehydration.

Mrs Clinton was criticised for not making this information widely known beforehand, and the episode added to her frosty public image as a close-lipped politician.

Mr Trump went on the warpath by also calling for Mrs Clinton to undergo drug tests ahead of their third and final debate on Oct 20.

Saying that "at the beginning of her last debate she was all pumped up", he accused her of abusing performance-enhancing drugs to boost her debate performance.

But opponents of Mr Trump seized on the irony of his statements by pointing out his heavy sniffling during three presidential debates.

Critics snidely suggested that it was evidence he had been using cocaine.

In response to an online question - "coke head or no?" - actress Carrie Fisher, who has been open about her past struggle with drug addiction, tweeted wrly: "I'm an expert & ABSOLUTELY".

5. PEACEFUL TRANSITION OF POWER


Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with moderator Chris Wallace following the third and final US presidential debate on Oct 19, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

The first presidential debate ended with the same question posed to both major party candidates: "Are you willing to accept the outcome (of the election) as the will of the voters?"

The third debate's moderator Chris Wallace took the question up again after Mr Trump's repeated assertions that the US presidential elections have been "rigged" against him.

"I want to ask you here on the stage tonight," Mr Wallace said. "Do you make the same commitment that you'll absolutely accept the result of the election?"

Mr Trump caused jaws to drop around the world when he refused to commit to a definitive answer on live television, saying "I will look at it at the time" and "I'll keep you in suspense, okay?"

A visibly stunned Mr Wallace said: "But, sir, there is a tradition in this country, in fact, one of the prides of this country is the peaceful transition of power and no matter how hard fought a campaign is that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner."

Mr Trump said the next day that he would "totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win".

But he had already sown doubts within the electorate and political establishment regarding his commitment to the principles of American democracy.