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Trump pounces on Clinton over emails, accusing her of ‘pay for play’

Democratic and Republican presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (AFP PHOTO / dskDSK/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump pounced Wednesday on new revelations about emails sent and received by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's staff, accusing Clinton of engaging in "pay for play" tactics.

The Republican presidential nominee made the remarks at a campaign stop in southwestern Virginia a day after he stoked widespread criticism when he appeared to encourage gun owners to take action if Clinton is elected president and appoints judges who support gun control. Trump didn't address that controversy directly on Wednesday, but he accused the press of blowing stories out of proportion and again charged that Second Amendment rights are "under siege."

Speaking in Abingdon in front of workers in hard hats holding up signs saying "Trump Digs Coal," Trump slammed his Democratic rival's use of a private email server when she was the nation's top diplomat and her shielding of non-work-related emails from public scrutiny. He also sought to draw attention to newly revealed emails involving State Department staffers during Clinton's tenure at the State Department.

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"A couple of very bad ones came out. And it's called pay for play. And some of these were really, really bad and illegal," argued Trump.

On Tuesday, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch released some new emails involving Clinton's staff, including one in which a longtime adviser to Bill Clinton wrote to Clinton's State Department aides requesting a meeting for a longtime Clinton Foundation donor.

"We need Gilbert Chagoury to speak to the substance person re Lebanon," Doug Band wrote in the email addressed to Clinton aides Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills. "As you know he's a key guy there and to us and is loved in Lebanon. Very imp."

Video: Clinton slams Trump’s Second Amendment comments

Abedin responded that she would talk to the recent U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, who was then serving as acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Feltman said he never connected with the billionaire donor to the foundation.

A Clinton campaign official said in a statement: "Mr. Chougary, who is of Lebanese descent, was simply seeking to share his insights on the upcoming Lebanese election with the right person at the Department of State for whom this information might be helpful. In seeking to provide information, he was not seeking action by the Department."

Responding to Trump, Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin said in a statement: "This is a classic Trump playbook move. Make a false statement that overreaches and hope it changes the conversation from his comments yesterday casually inciting violence."

On the uproar over Trump's gun comment, he and his campaign have insisted in the last 24 hours that when he said "Second Amendment people" could take action if Clinton appoints anti-gun judges, he meant to encourage them to be politically active. Clinton's campaign and her allies have accused Trump of trying to incite violence.

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"A big part of the rigged system is the press itself," Trump said, arguing that reporters often make bigger deals out of news developments than is justified.

"And speaking of the — remember this," Trump said. "We have so many things that we have protect in this country. We have to protect our Second Amendment, which is under siege." The crowd applauded.

Polls show Clinton leading Trump in all-important Virginia. To compete, Trump will have to try to run up his margin in the commonwealth's most conservative enclave, the far southwest, a heavily rural, white area where many people work — or have lost jobs — in the coal industry. Clinton is expected to do very well in populous Northern Virginia.

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Trump argued Wednesday that he will help voters in Abingdon and similar areas and that Clinton has left them behind. He railed against sweeping trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement, blaming the latter for U.S. job losses. He vowed to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing industry and accused Clinton and the Democratic Party of ushering in policies that have hurt blue-collar workers.

The scope's of Trump's Virginia challenge is evident in data from recent elections. President Obama lost the 9th congressional district to Republican Mitt Romney by nearly 30 points in 2012. But he still carried Virginia, thanks to a strong showing in Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area, where there are many more voters than in the region where Trump campaigned Wednesday.

Trump said Clinton will "put the miners out of business," as he repeatedly nodded to the industry that is important to many in and around Abingdon. At other times, he referred to other areas of the state, highlighting the Trump Winery in Charlottesville.

During his speech, Trump also told the crowd that he has friend who is a major plant builder and who said the building process was "unbelievable" in Mexico and far less impressive in the United States. Trump's campaign did not immediately make clear which friend Trump was talking about.

The nominee took some digs at Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. Trump slammed Kaine's record as governor of Virginia and compared it to that of his own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has been governor since 2012. Kaine was governor from 2006 to 2010. Under his watch, Virginia won some high marks for management.

Trump said Kaine's governorship was "catastrophic."

Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.