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Debate prep video is a lesson in how to avoid a hug from Trump

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US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shake hands at the end of the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 9, 2016. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images)

Responding to reports that former FBI Director James Comey specifically avoided embracing President Trump at a White House event, a former Hillary Clinton staffer revealed the Democratic candidate had anticipated a potential embrace during debate preparation.

Phillippe Reines, a political consultant and former State Department advisor to Clinton, tweeted out a video of a September practice session where Reines portrayed Trump. In it, Clinton avoids Reines’ attempt at a hug by high-fiving him and trying to jog away.

Reines was responding to a New York Times report where one of Comey’s friends outlined how the then FBI chief had told him about refusing to be pulled into a Trump embrace.

“Comey said that as he was walking across the room he was determined that there wasn’t going to be a hug,” said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog, told the Times. “It was bad enough there was going to be a handshake. And Comey has long arms so Comey said he pre-emptively reached out for a handshake and grabbed the president’s hand. But Trump pulled him into an embrace and Comey didn’t reciprocate. If you look at the video, it’s one person shaking hands and another hugging.”

Trump’s sometimes awkward handshake style has been closely analyzed by some. He held onto Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hand for 19 seconds and pulled so hard on at the arm of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch that the maneuver was referred to by The Guardian as a “yank-shake.” Trump didn’t shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the White House saying later he did not hear her request.

The Clinton campaign attempted to anticipate not just Trump’s potential answers during debate prep but also his physical size and mannerisms. A January profile in Politico outlined the lengths Reines went to in order to get into character as the then Republican nominee:

He searched eBay for a 2005 Donald J. Trump signature collection watch, which he purchased for $175. He experimented with a self-tanning lotion on his face. Before prep sessions, Reines began suiting up with velcro knee pads (to keep his legs straight), a posture enhancer (to keep his arms back), and dress shoes with three-inch lifts (to match Trump’s 6-foot-1-inch frame). His longtime tailor fit him for a loose-fitting suit with large cuffs. His goal was not a “Saturday Night Live”-style caricature of Trump, so he didn’t try to replicate Trump’s famous mane. But he wanted to approximate his physicality so that Clinton would grow accustomed to Trump’s looming presence when she saw Reines in her peripheral vision.

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