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Trump Grabs Recent Media Headlines But They're Mostly Negative

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The vast majority of the headlines this past week, like many other weeks in this election, have been about Donald Trump and things he has said, from his economic speech to his controversial comments on the Second Amendment to calling President Obama the founder of ISIS. And Hillary Clinton seems to be just fine with that, as there have been some negative headlines for her this week, too. NPR's Tamara Keith covers the Clinton campaign. She's on the line with us now. Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So a drumbeat of negative news about Trump - it's good for Clinton.

KEITH: Yeah, basically. And that's because these types of things have been dragging down Trump's poll numbers for weeks. And recently, though, for Clinton there's been the added benefit of drowning out some negative stories about her, like some recently released emails between the Clinton Foundation and her top aides at the State Department. They raised concerns about donors to the foundation getting special access.

Here's the thing, these are two candidates with incredibly high negatives. If this is an election about Donald Trump, he loses. If this is an election about Hillary Clinton, she could well lose. But both of them seem intent on making this an election about Donald Trump.

MONTAGNE: Right. Well, let's dig in a little bit more to those emails that were revealed this week that bring in the whole question of the Clinton Foundation. What can you tell us about them?

KEITH: Well, the notable part - there were two email chains. One has a top aide to Bill Clinton at the foundation emailing Hillary Clinton's staff at the State Department about a job for someone. We are told that it was a young advanced staffer from the campaign, but we don't know whether this person got a job. And we don't know, really, who they are. There was also a request to connect a major Clinton Foundation donor with ties to Lebanon with someone at the State Department who was knowledgeable about Lebanon, though the connection was never made.

MONTAGNE: And as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was supposed to be - you know, there's supposed to have been a wall between her and the foundation. What does the Clinton campaign say about this?

KEITH: They say the wall was there. They say that this is something of a political witch hunt, what Hillary Clinton might once have called the vast right-wing conspiracy. These emails were released by a conservative group called Judicial Watch. On the substance, the Clinton campaign says this was not about foundation business but was rather a top personal aide for the former president - who happened also to work at the foundation - getting in touch with top personal aides to his wife about people both of them know. But this absolutely contributes to the cloud of suspicion as to whether there was improper dealing at the foundation while Clinton was at the State Department. And it feeds Trump's nickname for her - crooked Hillary.

MONTAGNE: And Hillary Clinton, separately, is expected to release her latest tax returns any time now. She's been trying to force Donald Trump to release his tax returns as well. What is the campaign thinking about all of that? What's the point for them?

KEITH: Well, the point is to bring back up that Donald Trump has not released his taxes. The Clintons have released all of their tax returns going back to 1977. Now, of course, one of them has served in public office nearly that entire time. They're making a calculation that by releasing these tax returns, they're also going to release a decade worth of tax returns for Tim Kaine, that they can again put pressure on Donald Trump to release his returns. And truly, this is a standard part of the presidential vetting process, going back to Richard Nixon.

MONTAGNE: And in particular, though, what is the Clinton campaign hoping Trump's taxes will reveal?

KEITH: I don't know that they even think that he'll ever reveal his tax returns. But they will raise...

MONTAGNE: But should he, what do they hope for?

KEITH: Well, they hope to raise...

MONTAGNE: What do they hope that might be in them?

KEITH: Well, they hope to raise questions about what's in them and what he's hiding. And the campaign today put out a video using footage from cable news over the last year or so of various Republicans questioning what's in Donald Trump's taxes and why he won't release them. One thing that's possible, Mark Cuban, the billionaire businessman who's backing Clinton, recently said that it might show Trump isn't as rich as he says he is or other people have floated the idea of ties to Russia or that Trump isn't as charitable as he says he is.

MONTAGNE: OK. Tamara, thanks very much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.