The Note: The Debate Before the Debate


--TRUMP CALLS PUTIN BETTER LEADER THAN OBAMA IN MILITARY TOWN HALL: Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were grilled last night by veterans in a wide-ranging forum that touched on Clinton's email scandal and the fitness of both to be commander-in-chief. During the forum -- where the candidates appeared separately in front of an audience made up largely of veterans -- Trump suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a better leader than President Obama. "The man has very strong control over a country," he said during the town hall was hosted by MSNBC/NBC on the Intrepid aircraft carrier. "Now it’s a very different system and I don't happen to like the system, but certainly in that system, he's been a leader. Far more than our president has been a leader." Trump did very little to tamp down controversial talk about how he has been friendly with Russia throughout his campaign. More from ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY:

--OBAMA SAYS TRUMP SHOWS HE'S UNFIT FOR PRESIDENCY 'EVERY TIME HE SPEAKS’: President Obama said today that Trump's controversial public statements confirm his belief that the GOP nominee is unfit to sit in the Oval Office, ABC’s JORDYN PHELPS notes. "I don’t think the guy is qualified to be president of the United States, and every time he speaks, that opinion is confirmed," the president told reporters during a news conference at the conclusion of his final trip to Asia as commander in chief.

--CLINTON SAYS NO GROUND TROOPS IN IRAQ 'EVER AGAIN': Hillary Clinton yesterday said she wouldn't put ground troops in Iraq "ever again" and would not use boots on the ground to defeat ISIS, ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ notes. "We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again and we are not putting ground troops into Syria," the Democratic presidential nominee, who has consistently said she does not want to put ground troops into Iraq, said during a forum on national security on NBC News. "We're going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops."

--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Let’s stipulate that both campaigns are glad they have two-plus weeks more of debate prep time. The first joint forum of the general election, coming less than 20 days before the first debate, previewed the sharp messaging both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump plan to employ for the stretch. They couldn’t help but make their own arguments about their opponents. But their individual weaknesses were on stark display. Clinton’s halting, frustrated answers about her email practices dominated her half of the forum, as did lingering (still) questions about her Iraq war vote, and Libya (“we didn’t lose a single person”). Trump, meanwhile, wrongly said he was always against that war, while insulting US generals (“reduced to rubble”), praising Vladimir Putin (“he does have an 82 percent approval rating”), and suggesting that intelligence officers who are giving him security briefings are secretly opposed to President Obama’s major policies. Both would have a hard time coming off as the candidate of steadiness and conviction on foreign policy. The forum also underscored an oft-overlooked point: Clinton and Trump defy conventional labels around foreign policy, especially as they traditionally attach to their respective parties, to an unusual degree. Who’s the hawk? Who’s the dove? That’s not a judgment that can be made based on their policies, and also their demeanors: This campaign is about them – the people – far more than it is about their convictions.


PENCE DENIES TRUMP'S 'BIRTHER' THEORY. Donald Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, threw cold water on the real estate mogul's longtime espousal of "birtherism" -- the theory that President Obama was not born in the United States. Speaking to a group of reporters aboard his plane yesterday afternoon, Pence said: "I believe Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. "I accept his birthplace." More from ABC’s INES DE LA CUETARA and ADAM KELSEY.

FLASHBACK -- THE LAST TIME DONALD TRUMP TALKED ABOUT 'BIRTHERISM.' Mike Pence says he believes President Obama was born in the United States. What about Donald Trump? Trump supporter Ben Carson said Tuesday it would be a “good idea” if Trump apologized for his embrace of birtherism but Trump has studiously avoided the issue since he launched his presidential campaign last year -– just yesterday telling Bill O’Reilly “I don’t even talk about it anymore, Bill, because I just don’t bother talking about it.” But Trump did address the issue, at some length, in an interview with ABC’s JONATHAN KARL at the beginning of the 2016 presidential cycle. And he left no doubt that his feelings on the issue had not changed.


WHY A PRO-TRUMP SUPER PAC IS GOING POSITIVE IN NEW AD. As the final sprint of the campaign approaches, a pro-Donald Trump SuperPAC, Rebuilding America Now, says they will change focus to air positive spots backing Donald Trump as opposed to the attack ads hitting Hillary Clinton they have previously run, notes ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE. They say the change in strategy is due to a test they did in the Youngstown, Ohio market where they aired a positive one minute ad titled “America Soaring” and they saw their internal polling jumping from a statistical tie to a double digit lead. The ad depicts Trump as the candidate to bring back the country’s manufacturing sector: “Factory workers have seen the jobs they love shipped thousands of miles away. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can turn it around,” the narrator says in the ad. “We are going to make America Great Again for everyone, greater than ever before.” WATCH:


--ABC NEWS SPOKE TO THE PAC'S STRATEGISTS AND POLLSTER JIM MCLAUGHLIN who said they believe the jump they saw is because “people are looking for a reason to vote for Donald Trump.” Strategist Curt Anderson said “If you just go out and talk to people they essentially will tell you nicely or not so nicely they don’t like either candidate,” adding the spot shows voters “I can be for something instead of against something in a race that has been negative the entire time.” McLaughlin said their test showed “a lot of Republicans coming home.” “They want hope and change again, but they don’t want his hope and change,” McLaughlin said referring to President Obama’s signature line, adding this strategy is about “giving some hope on the economy and jobs” and helping to answer voters’ insecurities on the economy.

--THE PAC IS NOT RELEASING AD BUY DETAILS YET, but did say they are not ruling out running more negative ads in the future. Rebuilding American Now has spent about $12.8 million up to this point in advertising backing Trump, according to an ABC News analysis of advertising data from CMAG/Kantar Media. Their first ad linked Hillary Clinton’s private e mail use with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, using Bill Clinton’s famous denial of their relationship.



TRUMP HINTS ABOUT WHAT HE LEARNED IN CLASSIFIED BRIEFING. Donald Trump hinted about what he learned in a classified intelligence briefing during a televised forum with members of the military and veterans last night. Trump, who has assailed his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, for mishandling classified information over her private email server, discussed the briefing with NBC News' Matt Lauer, ABC’s TOM LIDDY notes. "What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly -- when they call it intelligence, it's there for a reason, what our experts said to do," he said during the forum. "In almost every instance, and I could tell, I’m pretty good with the body language, they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending."

NOTED: CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER SAYS IT'S 'CONCERNING' THAT TRUMP SEEMED TO SHARE BRIEFING INFORMATION. Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, today called Republican nominee Donald Trump's hinting at classified intelligence briefing information "concerning." "It's concerning that Donald Trump was potentially sharing information that he learned in his briefing," Mook said on "Good Morning America." More from ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI:

TRUMP AGAIN INSISTS HE WAS AGAINST IRAQ INVASION, DESPITE PAST COMMENTS. Donald Trump has been catching some heat for his characterization of his stance on the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The GOP candidate has been adamant about his early opposition to the invasion, despite some evidence to the contrary. The controversy got kicked up again at last night’s Commander-In-Chief Forum, when Trump offered up a rebuttal to a criticism being leveled at him by Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election. "I heard Hillary Clinton say I was not against the war in Iraq. I was totally against the war in Iraq," Trump told host Matt Lauer. Politifact has rated his claim that he "was among the earliest to criticize the rush to war in Iraq, and yes, even before the war ever started," as false. ABC’s JJ GALLAGHER has more.

TRUMP STANDS BY CONTROVERSIAL TWEET ABOUT MILITARY SEX ASSAULTS. Donald Trump is standing by a controversial tweet about sexual assault in the military from 2013: “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” [sic] During NBC News’ “Commander-In-Chief” Forum Wednesday night, the Republican nominee was asked if he stood by the comment, according to ABC’s CANDACE SMITH and MEGHAN KENEALLY. “Well it is. It is a correct tweet. There are many people think that's absolutely correct,” Trump responded. When asked by moderator Matt Lauer if women should be taken out of the military, Trump said, “Well well--- it's happening...And by the way since then, it's gotten worse. No, not to kick them out but something has to happen.”

COLIN POWELL TOLD HILLARY CLINTON HOW HE BYPASSED STATE DEPT. SERVERS, NEWLY-RELEASED EMAILS REVEAL. Seeking to defend Hillary Clinton from recent criticism of her use of private email at the State Department, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee released on Wednesday night her January 2009 e-mail exchange with former Secretary of State Colin Powell regarding use of a personal device and e-mail as the nation’s top diplomat. Clinton wrote to Powell about his own email practices, after President Obama’s successful effort to keep his BlackBerry as president. “What were the restrictions on your use of your BlackBerry?” Clinton asked Powell on the morning of January 23, 2009, two days after she was sworn in as Secretary of State. ABC’s BENJAMIN SIEGEL has more.

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE TRUMP FOUNDATION'S DONATION TO FLORIDA AG PAM BONDI. Donald Trump has accused Hillary Clinton of using her position in the State Department to provide favors for donors to the Clinton Foundation, but one of his charitable organization’s past donations has also raised questions. The questions center on a $25,000 check the Donald J. Trump Foundation sent to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s fundraising committee in 2013, notes ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI. Critics say the money looked like a way to persuade Bondi’s office not to join a lawsuit against the now-defunct Trump University, which Trump and Bondi deny.

TRUMP CALLS FOR MILITARY CUTS TO BE LIFTED, CALLS CLINTON 'TRIGGER HAPPY.' Summing up his foreign policy in three words, "peace through strength," Donald Trump called on Congress Wednesday to end the cuts to U.S. military spending. "As soon as I take office, I will ask Congress to fully eliminate the defense sequester and will submit a new budget to rebuild our military," Trump told the Union League of Philadelphia in a speech focused on U.S. military readiness. "It is so depleted. We will rebuild our military.” The so-called military sequester was a part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which mandated $500 billion be cut from the military over the decade, ABC’s CANDACE SMITH notes.



CHELSEA CLINTON SLAMS TRUMP'S 'MISOGYNISTIC' REMARKS ABOUT HER MOM. In her first appearance on the campaign trail since giving birth to her second child in June, Chelsea Clinton didn't hold back when asked about Donald Trump's recent comments that her mother doesn't look presidential, blasting the comments as "misogynistic." "I would hope that everyone could see that as the sad, misogynistic, sexist rhetoric that I’d hoped we’d moved beyond in the 21st century, certainly in 2016,” she said in an interview with ABC’s ALANA ABRAMSON has more:



@MrWillRitter: "Aleppo? it's something we're looking at very closely bc, frankly, people say what Obama has done is terrible" - What Trump would have said

@ananavarro: 1 POTUS candidate doesn't know difference b/w Kurds & Quds. Another, doesn't know what Aleppo is. Be afraid, America

@woodruffbets: Trump's plan to defeat ISIS: "maybe a combination of my plan [which is secret] and the general's plan [which does not yet exist]"

@SusanPage: Bromance? Top Dem on House Intelligence says Trump-Putin relationship goes beyond admiration: Moscow is meddling.

@adamslily: Trump shaking up his FL operation with 61 days to go