As woes mount for Trump, Clinton seizes offensive

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Washington (AFP) - Donald Trump's presidential hopes suffered a punishing new setback Monday as authorities clamped down on his charitable foundation, while Hillary Clinton seized the offensive to brand the Republican a rapacious, bullying businessman.

With just five weeks to go before the November 8 election, the billionaire Trump is struggling to regain his footing against a surging Clinton and climb out of one of the darkest periods of his White House campaign.

Already weakened by damaging revelations about his taxes, Trump was hit with an order by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that the Donald J. Trump foundation must "cease and desist from soliciting contributions" in New York.

The notice, delivered Friday and made public on Monday, informed the charity that it had engaged in fundraising activities that were not permitted under the law because it had not been registered with state authorities.

With Team Trump on the defensive after leaked documents suggested the brash billionaire may have paid no income tax for two decades, the Democrat Clinton rounded on him as an unscrupulous businessman who cares little for his fellow countrymen.

"While millions of American families, including mine and yours were working hard paying our fair share, it seems he was contributing nothing to our nation. Imagine that," a fired up Clinton said in Toledo, in key battleground Ohio.

"He has been 'dissing' America in this whole campaign," charged the Democrat, riding high on a surge in polling carried out after the bruising first presidential debate.

Trump, on his own swing-state tour, used an appearance before military veterans in Virginia to pound the former secretary of state once more for handling classified information via a "basement" private email server.

But in recent days Trump's strongest line of attack has been personal, and of a rare brutality even for this bare-knuckles campaign: at the weekend he mocked Clinton for coming down with pneumonia and even questioned her loyalty to her husband.

"She can't make it 15 feet to her car. Give me a break," Trump said Saturday night in Manheim, Pennsylvania as he imitated Clinton stumbling into her vehicle during a 9/11 ceremony in New York.

"Hillary Clinton's only loyalty is to her financial contributors and to herself," he said.

"I don't even think she's loyal to Bill, if you want to know the truth. And really, folks, really, why should she be, right?" said the Manhattan billionaire, who revived talk of Bill Clinton's past infidelities in the wake of his lackluster debate performance.

- 'Poster boy' for bullying -

Even as he launched the contentious attacks, a defiant Trump campaign dodged swirling questions about his tax record.

Without admitting fault, Trump's top allies praised their candidate's business acumen following the bombshell revelation by The New York Times that he declared a loss of $916 million on his 1995 tax return, enabling him to legally avoid paying taxes for up to 18 years.

If true, the report -- based on documents apparently leaked by someone within the Trump organization -- is proof of the tycoon's "absolute genius," said former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump surrogate.

Trump has refused to release his tax returns, something US presidential candidates have done for four decades.

In their September 26 debate, Clinton suggested that Trump is hiding "something terrible," and perhaps had paid no federal income tax.

Trump's answer: "That makes me smart."

He reportedly took massive, though legal, tax breaks on failing businesses, earning millions while shareholders and investors swallowed the losses and contractors went unpaid.

Clinton seized on the Times report to blast her rival -- not just for refusing to pay his share, but as a business failure.

"How anybody can lose a dollar, let alone a billion dollars, in the casino industry is kind of beyond me," she said. "What kind of 'genius' loses a billion dollars in a single year?"

"When it comes to bullying small businesses, Donald Trump is the poster boy," said a steely-eyed Clinton, saying he had "stiffed" painters, plumbers and other contractors.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll showed Clinton with 42 percent support from likely voters compared to 36 percent for Trump.

While a fresh Quinnipiac battlegrounds poll had Trump ahead five points in Ohio, it showed Clinton leading 46 percent to 41 percent in Florida, 45-41 in Pennsylvania and 46-43 percent in North Carolina.

Tuesday will see the vice presidential nominees clash in their only debate of the election cycle, with Republican Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia tangling on issues likely to include abortion, climate change and trade.

Clinton and Trump face off in their second debate on Sunday.

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