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As The Candidates Drop By Sunday Talk Shows, 2 Big Themes Emerge

Hillary Clinton looks on during a campaign rally with democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine in Johnstown, Pa., on Saturday.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
Hillary Clinton looks on during a campaign rally with democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine in Johnstown, Pa., on Saturday.

Two big subjects popped out from the screen on this week's Sunday political talk shows: the candidates' responses to criticism leveled by grieving families, and questions about Russia's involvement in the U.S. presidential race.

The Families

Khizr Khan, whose son was killed fighting for the U.S. in Iraq, spoke forcefully at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, accusing Donald Trump of fomenting divisiveness and asking if Trump had read the Constitution. As his wife Ghazala stood silently beside him, Khan implored Trump to "look for the words 'liberty' and 'equal protection of law.' "

On Friday, Trump taped an interview with George Stephanopoulos which aired Sunday morning onThis Week. In it, he responded to the Khans' appearance at the DNC:

I saw him. He was, you know, very emotional. And probably looked like — a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me, but plenty of people have written that.

She was extremely quiet and looked like she had nothing to say. A lot of people have said that.

And personally, I watched him. I wish him the best of luck, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What would you say to the father?

TRUMP: Well, I would say, we have had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorism, that's what I'd say. We have had a lot of problems where you look at San Bernardino, you look at Orlando, you look at the World Trade Center, you look at so many different things. You look at what happened to the priest over the weekend in Paris, where his throat was cut, 85-year-old, beloved Catholic priest. You look at what happened in Nice, France, a couple of weeks ago.

I would say, you gotta take a look that, because something is going on, and it's not good.

(Khizr Khan has also been outspoken about extremism.)

The night he taped the ABC interview, Trump also echoed his question about Ghazala Khan to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times.

Khizr Khan, accompanied by his wife, Ghazala Khan, speaks about their son Capt. Humayun Khan on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.
Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Khizr Khan, accompanied by his wife, Ghazala Khan, speaks about their son Capt. Humayun Khan on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.

Ghazala Khan, who spoke to MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Friday and contributed an op-ed to The Washington Post on Sunday, did not appear on the Sunday shows this morning, but her husband did. On CNN, he answered a question about a Saturday night statement from the Trump campaign, which did not address Trump's questions about Ghazala Khan but did call the Khans' son, Capt. Humayun Khan, "a hero to our country."

"I appreciate his response, his press release that was issued last night, confirming that he accepts my son as a hero of this country.

"But to answer your question, his policies, his practices do not reflect that he has any understanding of the basic fundamental constitutional principles of this country, what makes this country exceptional, what makes this country exceptional in the history of the mankind.

"There are principles of equal dignity, principle of liberty. He talks about excluding people, disrespecting judges, the entire judicial system, immigrants, Muslim immigrants. These are — divisive rhetoric that is totally against the basic constitutional principle."

Khan went on to say that Trump is "incapable of empathy."

"I want his family to counsel him, teach him some empathy. He will be a better person if he could become — but he is a black soul. And this is totally unfit for the leadership of this beautiful country."

Donald Trump isn't the only candidate who's come under criticism from the family of a fallen American. On a Fox News Sunday interview taped Saturday, Chris Wallace asked Hillary Clinton about Patricia Smith, whose son was killed in the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Here's that exchange:

WALLACE: One of the most dramatic moments in the Republican convention was when Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, one of the people who died in Benghazi, stood up before the convention and blamed you for her son's death.


PAT SMITH, MOTHER OF SEAN SMITH: I blame Hillary Clinton — I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son. That's personally.


WALLACE: She and the father of Tyrone Woods both say that on the day that their sons' bodies were returned to the United States, that you came up to them and you said it was all because of a video, not terrorism. Now, I know some of the other families disagree with this, and I know you deny it.

The question is, why would they make that up?

CLINTON: Chris, my heart goes out to both of them. Losing a child under any circumstances, especially in this case, two State Department employees, extraordinary men, both of them, two CIA contractors gave their lives protecting our countries, our values. I understand the grief and the incredible sense of loss that can motivate that.

As other members of families who lost loved ones have said, that's not what they heard — I don't hold any ill feeling for someone who in that moment may not fully recall everything that was or wasn't said.

NPR's Don Gonyea points out that Clinton's posture toward Patricia Smith is similar to George W. Bush's posture toward Cindy Sheehan, who protested U.S. involvement in Iraq by camping outside Bush's Texas ranch. Sheehan's son, like Humayun Khan, died in Iraq in 2004. This is from Reuters in August 2005:

" 'I grieve for every death,' Bush said as Cindy Sheehan remained camped out about 5 miles away. For six days she has been demanding Bush meet with her about her son, Casey Austin Sheehan, an Army specialist killed in combat in Baghdad in April 2004.

" 'It breaks my heart to think about a family weeping over the loss of a loved one. I understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place,' Bush said.

But he added, 'Pulling the troops out would send a terrible signal to the enemy.' "

Russia And The American Election

The other big issue from the Sunday talkers was the candidates' take on Russia and allegations it is meddling in the U.S. electoral process.

Hillary Clinton, on Fox, was clear when asked about recent hacks of the Democratic National Committee:

WALLACE: Do you believe that Russia is behind the hacking and release of the DNC emails? And do you think that Vladimir Putin wants to defeat you or see you defeated and Donald Trump elected president?

CLINTON: Well, Chris, here's what I think we know. We know that Russian intelligence services, which is part of the Russian government which is under the firm control of Vladimir Putin, hacked into the DNC. And we know that he arranged for a lot of those emails to be released.

And we know that Donald Trump has shown a very troubling willingness to back up Putin, to support Putin, whether it's saying that NATO wouldn't come to the rescue of allies if they were invaded, talking about removing sanctions from Russian officials after they were imposed by the United States and Europe together, because of Russia's aggressiveness in Crimea and Ukraine, his praise for Putin which is I think quite remarkable.

On ABC, George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Trump answered:

If our country got along with Russia, that would be a great thing. When Putin goes out and tells everybody — and you talk about a relationship, but he says Donald Trump is going to win and Donald Trump is a genius, and then I have people saying you should disavow. I said, I'm going to disavow that?

But when Putin says good things and when we have a possibility of having a good relationship with Russia ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if we have a good relationship ...

TRUMP: — I think ...


STEPHANOPOULOS: — his annexation of Crimea.

TRUMP: I'm not going to be mean to anybody. George, you know me pretty well. I don't bow, OK. I don't bow.

Trump returned to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, later in the conversation:

Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas. He's not going into Ukraine, OK?

Just so you understand. He's not going to go into Ukraine, all right?

You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's already there, isn't he?

TRUMP: OK, well, he's there in a certain way, but I'm not there yet. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you're talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he's going where — he takes — takes Crimea, he's sort of — I mean ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you might recognize that.

TRUMP: I'm going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.

On Meet the Press, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange would not say whether the DNC emails his organization released came from Russian hacking, but he did say Wikileaks would accept information from a foreign government if they could verify its accuracy.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ed McNulty