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Character seems to be the Key Issue in Waning Days of US Election Campaign

Polls show many voters question whether Clinton is trustworthy. An even greater number, though, fear that Trump lacks the temperament to be president

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FILE - Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hold signs at a Memorial Day parade in Chappaqua, N.Y., May 30, 2016. VOA
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Washington, November 5, 2016: Americans will elect a new president on November 8, and while issues like the economy and foreign policy will be important, polls indicate many voters are likely to make their decision based on how they feel about the personal attributes of the two major candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Character issues have dominated the 2016 campaign from the beginning, and there seems to be no let-up in the final days as Clinton and Trump remain focused primarily on each other’s perceived flaws.

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The renewed FBI probe of Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state has pushed the issue of her trustworthiness once again front and center. And Trump wasted little time in highlighting the development in his campaign rallies, including one in Phoenix, Arizona.

“This is the biggest political scandal since Watergate, and it’s everybody’s deepest hope that justice, at last, will be beautifully delivered,” said Trump.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Miami, Florida, Nov. 2, 2016. VOA
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Miami, Florida, Nov. 2, 2016. VOA

FBI probe

While Clinton now finds herself on the defensive over the email controversy, she also has shown a willingness to continue to lash out at what she believes are Trump’s character flaws in the final days of the campaign, including a recent get-out-the vote event in Miami.

“Donald Trump is out there stoking fear, disgracing our democracy and insulting one group of Americans after another,” said Clinton.

Presidential campaigns often center on issues like the economy, foreign policy and immigration. But this year is clearly different, said George Washington University political scientist Matt Dallek.

“This race has primarily become about character and about personality,” said Dallek. “I think this issue of character is going to remain front and center. I don’t think it is going away and I think to an unusual degree, issues and policies are not really as central as they typically are.”

Polls show many voters question whether Clinton is trustworthy. An even greater number, though, fear that Trump lacks the temperament to be president.

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets voters outside of an early voting site in Lauderhill, Florida, November 2, 2016. VOA
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets voters outside of an early voting site in Lauderhill, Florida, November 2, 2016. VOA

Trust vs. temperament

Clinton’s challenge was clear in a recent CBS News poll that found only 36 percent of those surveyed said they found Clinton “honest and trustworthy,” compared to 60 percent who did not.

Trump has an uphill battle, however, on the issue of temperament. In that same CBS poll, 65 percent of those surveyed said Trump did not have “the right kind of temperament and personality” to be president, compared with 59 percent who thought Clinton did.

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The perceived flaws of the two candidates have dominated the campaign to an unusual extent, said West Virginia University political scientist Patrick Hickey.

“I think that is a very odd American presidential election in that both candidates are viewed unfavorably by the majority of the American people,” Hickey told VOA on the WVA campus in Morgantown recently. “Usually that might happen to one candidate, but not both.”

This combination of pictures created on October 09, 2016 shows Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. VOA
This combination of pictures created on October 09, 2016 shows Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. VOA

Debate confrontations

The questions about character have been center-stage in the campaign and came into sharp relief during the three presidential debates. Trump went after Clinton over the email issue in the second presidential debate and took the unprecedented step of promising an investigation if elected.

“If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception,” said Trump.

Clinton also seized opportunities to question Trump’s character. In the third debate, it was Clinton who went on the offensive over a series of controversial Trump comments about women.

“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like,” said Clinton.

For much of the campaign, when one candidate or the other has been focus, that person has generally suffered in the polls. And that’s why the cycle of repeated attacks on each other continues, said American University analyst Austin Hart.

“I think they are happy right now focusing on the candidates themselves, and less about the issues. But that could change, and if it does then something like the economy, like immigration, could matter more,” said Hart.

APTOPIX Campaign 2016 Clinton. VOA
APTOPIX Campaign 2016 Clinton. VOA

Tighter race

That seems less likely now in the wake of the FBI announcement that brought Clinton’s email troubles back into focus. There has been some tightening in the polls since the FBI announcement as Clinton’s advantage over Trump has slipped bit.

Some analysts believe Trump’s long list of controversial comments and perceived insults, however, have made it tougher for him to make up much ground.

“He’s viewed as less knowledgeable, obviously less experienced, less empathy, doesn’t have the right temperament to be president,” said Charles Prysby, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “So he is being hurt a lot on character traits, more than anything else.”

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With all the attacks and focus on the character of the candidates this year, West Virginia’s Patrick Hickey said the election outcome likely will depend on which supporters are more motivated to vote.

“And this is a kind of anti-election, as opposed to a pro-election, which I think means that on Election Day, turnout is really going to be what matters, which side can turn out voters to actually get to the polls,” said Hickey.

Given all the focus on character and the multitude of negative attacks, voters seem as eager for the end of the campaign as they are to know the outcome on November 8. One of the longest and most divisive U.S. election campaigns will come to a close next Tuesday, and for many voters, the end can’t come soon enough. (VOA)

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Watchdog: FBI Could Have Tried Harder to Hack iPhone

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The Apple iPhone 7 is displayed at an Apple store at the Grove in Los Angeles, California, Sept. 16, 2016. VOA

FBI officials could have tried harder to unlock an iPhone as part of a terrorism investigation before launching an extraordinary court fight with Apple Inc. in an effort to force it to break open the device, the Justice Department’s watchdog said Tuesday.

The department’s inspector general said it found no evidence the FBI was able to access data on the phone belonging to one of the gunmen in a 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, as then-FBI Director James Comey told Congress more than once. But communications failures among FBI officials delayed the search for a solution. The FBI unit tasked with breaking into mobile devices only sought outside help to unlock the phone the day before the Justice Department filed a court brief demanding Apple’s help, the inspector general found.

The finding could hurt future Justice Department efforts to force technology companies to help the government break into encrypted phones and computers.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks at the 2018 Boston Conference on Cybersecurity at Boston College, in Boston, Massachusetts, March 7, 2018. VOA

The intense public debate surrounding the FBI’s legal fight with Apple largely faded after federal authorities announced they were able to access the phone in the San Bernardino attack without the help of the technology giant. But Trump administration officials have indicated a renewed interest in legislation that would address the problem, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray publicly discussing their frequent frustration with encrypted devices. Congress could be less inclined to act on the problem — known as “going dark” — if there is an indication it may not be necessary.

Even after an outside vendor demonstrated it could successfully hack the phone, FBI officials disagreed over whether it should be used, in part because it would make the legal battle with Apple unnecessary. Some FBI officials thought they had found the precedent-setting case to convince Americans there should be no encryption that can’t be defeated or accessed with a warrant.

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FBI Executive Assistant Director for Science and Technology Amy Hess, testifies in Washington, April 19, 2016, before a House subcommittee hearing on deciphering the debate over encryption. VOA

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Amy Hess, who then oversaw the FBI’s science and technology division, told the inspector general’s office she was concerned that other officials did not seem to want to find a technical solution, or perhaps even knew of one, but remained silent in order to beat Apple in court.

The inspector general found no one withheld knowledge of an existing FBI capability, but failed to pursue all avenues in search for a solution. An FBI unit chief knew that an outside vendor had almost 90 percent completed a technique that would have allowed it to break into the phone, the report said, even as the Justice Department insisted that forcing Apple’s help was the only option.

Apple fought back, triggering a courtroom showdown that revived the debate over the balance of digital privacy rights and national security. Apple had argued that helping the FBI hack the iPhone would set a dangerous precedent, making all iPhone users vulnerable, and argued that Congress should take up the issue.

Apple declined to comment Tuesday. The FBI did not immediately return calls, but said in a letter to the inspector general that it agreed it with the findings and recommendations for improved communication. The report says the FBI is adding a new section to address the “going dark” problem and boost coordination among units that work on computers and mobile devices.

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Former FBI Director James Comey smiles during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, June 8, 2017. VOA

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Law enforcement officials have long warned that encryption and other data-protection measures are making it more difficult for investigators to track criminals and dangerous extremists. Wray said late last year that agents have been unable to retrieve data from half the mobile devices — nearly 7,000 phones, computers and tablets — that they tried to access in less than a year.

Yet Congress has shown little appetite for legislation that would force tech companies to give law enforcement easier access.

The issue also troubled Wray’s predecessor, Comey, who frequently spoke about the bureau’s inability to access digital devices. But the Obama White House never publicly supported legislation that would have forced technology companies to give the FBI a back door to encrypted information, leaving Comey’s hands tied to propose a specific legislative fix. VOA