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A Visit with Muhammad Ali

June 6, 2016

I was fortunate to have met Muhammad Ali in 1992, while I was working for ABC Sports. Ali and ABC Sports had a long history together, and Ali had come up to our offices to discuss putting his image on a clothing line that the company was producing.

He had already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease but the effects weren’t as bad as they were in his later years. He was a little slow but he had all his faculties. All of us at ABC Sports had been use to seeing stars in our department. I met Reggie Jackson once and of course our own announcers like Frank Gifford, Brent Musburger and Jim McKay would come up to the 13th floor periodically.

The day Ali arrived was totally different.  It was actually announced the day before. This was a big deal. This was MUHAMMAD ALI, The Greatest, the three-time heavyweight champion of the world. When Ali arrived he was ushered into a conference room where he sat down and started interacting with people.

NFL Hall of Famer Larry Csonka noted on his Facebook page that he had been to some banquets with Ali and that the champ “always noticed and recognized kids in his presence.” The day I met Ali was no different.  Some parents brought their kids in and Ali entertained them with magic tricks, like making a handkerchief disappear.

The champ got up to fake spar with one kid by holding his opened hands up and telling the kid, “come on.” The kid hit one of Ali’s open hands pretty hard and was reprimanded by his mother. Ali just smiled at the woman and said, “He can’t hurt me, no one can hurt me.”

It seemed that pretty much everyone in the sports department and a quite a few people from the news division made their way into the conference room that morning. Ali was great. He was in his element, it was a controlled environment and he was in control. The man could light up a room.

When it was my turn to sit next to him and get my picture taken, it was a moment I will never forget as long as I live. I sat down and asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking a picture with me, he replied with “What did you say?” I repeated myself and asked, would you mind taking a picture with me champ?”

He looked at me straight faced and asked me, “Who you calling a N—–?” A look of pure fear shot across my face. Just look at the picture, look at me then glace at the looks on the faces of the people around me.  Whoever took that photo snapped it at precisely the right moment.

Ali

I didn’t say that!

Needless to say I was scared as all hell. Here I am with all these people around me, my bosses, several Vice Presidents, and Ali’s handlers and Ali is accusing me of calling him the N word. I jumped up out of my seat and protested, “I didn’t say that!” Ali just started laughing and smiled at me and was probably thinking, “I got him.”

After my heart slowed down, I crooked my finger at Ali and told him that wasn’t very nice. The champ got up out of his seat, put out his arms and gave me a hug. And if any of my ABC Sports colleagues have that picture, I’d like a copy!

After meeting with everyone, taking pictures and signing autographs, Ali went into a meeting to discuss the clothing line. It was from this meeting that I got the idea for my first ever published story. I interviewed our Sr. Vice President of Finance at the time, since he was the one who arranged for the meeting with Ali. The piece appeared in our inter- company newsletter ABC Ink, and my journalism career was off and running.

Since that day I have met and interviewed hundreds of athletes, I have also met and spoken to a plethora of musicians, actors, comedians, television personalities and even two former Presidents.  But nothing will ever compare to meeting Muhammad Ali. He was, and always will be, The Greatest.

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The Ties That Bind

April 27, 2016

Ties

I remember my own First Holy Communion like it was yesterday (it was actually May 9, 1970). I couldn’t fall asleep the night before because I was so excited. My house was going to be filled with family and friends the next day, and one of my favorite relatives, my Uncle Chris (my mother’s brother), was going to be coming in from Long Island. My dad had died the previous September and Uncle Chris was like a father to me. He had a lot of experience being a dad having four of his own children (all boys) as well as a step son and a step daughter.

This past weekend my own son, Aiden, made his First Holy Communion and it was very emotional for me. I personally dressed him in his little suit and put his tie on him and made sure that he looked just right. The whole thing hit me as he was walking into the church with the rest of his class. I was seeing something my own dad did not get to see. I am sure dad was watching my ceremony from his seat up in heaven, but to a then six-year old kid it’s just not the same thing.

I was very proud of my little big man. He was as close to perfect in church as he could have been. While some other kids were fidgeting and even falling asleep, Aiden was steady as a rock. He made me proud. Of course my wife and her parents were the first ones in the church and grabbed seats in the pew right behind where Aiden would be sitting. While they were getting seated, I took him in the back room where he was to meet with his classmates and get some last minute instructions. It was here that I gave him something I wanted him to have on him. I gave him the tie I wore the day I made my first Communion.

What can I say? I‘m a pack rat, I save everything. I showed it to him, told it what it was and put it in his pocket. There was no way he could wear it, as it is 46 years old, yellowing and about two sizes too small for him. Some may call me a sentimental fool but that is alright I have been called worse!

On my wedding day I wore a tee-shirt with a pocket under my tuxedo shirt and in that pocket I had a picture of my mom and dad from their wedding day. Obviously they couldn’t be at my wedding so I was going to have them close to my heart. Sentimental fool indeed.

Aiden was also wearing a gold pin in his lapel that I bought for him the previous week. It’s a chalice with grapes and a host. I was wearing something a little different in my lapel. I had a pin with four Stanley Cups and the New York Islander logo in the center of it. I figured while I was in church, it couldn’t hurt to ask God for a little divine intervention for Sunday night’s game. And as always, God came through for me as the Islanders won the game in double overtime and thus won the series. Thank you God and John Tavares!

Speaking of John’s, my cousin John, who is my Uncle Chris’s oldest son came to the church with his entire family, which I thought was a really nice gesture. His dad was at my First Communion and here his family was at my son’s ceremony. It meant a lot to me and my wife and it just goes to show you how strong our family ties can be.

After church and some picture taking we headed home for a little party, which John’s family attended. John’s youngest son, Andrew. is my Godson. He is a terrific kid. Well calling him a kid is kind of pushing it, he’s 23 years old, 6’ 4” working a full time job and going for his Masters Degree. It’s kind of hard to believe that 23 years ago I held this kid in my arms on his the day he was baptized.

I watched Andrew grow up and I never missed one of his birthday parties and I would always go to my cousin’s house for Christmas and spoil his kids with gifts. Aiden really liked having my cousin’s family in the house. My Godson was so cool. He looked at Aiden’s Pokemon cards and told him that he had a bunch of them when he was younger. Then he did something Aiden loved, he played video games with him. Super Mario 3D World and New Super Mario Brothers U. Like I said Andrew is a good kid!

DSCN2820

The Video Game Players, look how serious they are.

After everyone left all Aiden could talk about was how Andrew told him that he had a video game over at his house that he (Aiden) wanted to play and that we should go over there sometime!

What I thought about was My Uncle Chris coming to my First Communion and now 46 years later here was his grandson at my son’s first communion, interacting with him and having a great time. Another big event and our family ties remain as strong as ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My (very) Short Glimpse of Prince

April 25, 2016

PrinceGuit

I’m not going to hype this up and say that I am a huge Prince fan. I do not own one album or CD of his. I think I may have the vinyl singles of “Let’s Go Crazy” and “1999” and that is about it. I never had the opportunity to see Prince in concert. I always admired him as an artist and I wish I would have attended one of his shows. However, I did get to see him for all of about 10 seconds in 2004.

That was the year his Royal Purpleness was inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. The ceremony was held at the Waldorf-Astoria so my friend Dennis and I decided to go check out the scene the day before hand and maybe catch a glimpse of some rock royalty.

In my younger days I had this nasty habit of sneaking into places without either a ticket or permission.  The majority of these were sporting events and rock concerts and the occasional Saturday Night Live rehearsal show (I worked in another part of the building so it was sort of OK to do this). Although one time, I did sneak into my then girlfriend Jennifer’s bedroom, but she was an accomplice. I climbed up the fire escape and knocked on her window. She let me in, saying that if I woke up her parents or her younger sister, I was a dead man. I just handed her the flowers I bought for her, kissed her and made my way back down the fire escape. Ah young love!

I had attended a few events in the Waldorf and sort of knew my way around the floor where they would be holding the ceremony. Dennis and I walk into the Waldorf and found our way to the area of the grand ballroom. There were a lot of construction guys walking around, and most of them looked like carpenters as they were helping to build the stage and some wooden ramps.

When we heard music we decided to take a peek inside to see where it was coming from. As we walked into the ball room there was Prince on stage. I don’t recall the song he was doing or who was in the band but I do remember locking eyes with him. I also recall him being extremely short. After about 10 seconds, Dennis taps me on the shoulder and he starts walking quickly out of the ballroom. I looked to the right and saw a guy coming toward me who was obviously security of some kind. I immediately followed Dennis out the door toward the left.

As we got outside the ball room and into the hallway area this irate person who we now knew was security yells, “Who are you guys?”

Slowly I turned around and said, “I’m Tommy and this is my friend Dino.” Dennis never likes using his real name in these situations.

“What are you doing in here?” he asked angrily.

I looked him dead in the eye and with a straight face I answered, “Looking for the bathroom.”

This seemed to get him even angrier. I don’t know why. He was asking questions and I was answering them in a forthright manner.

“You’re not supposed to be in here,” he bellowed. “How would you both like to get locked up?”

I think the fact that I was being so cool with him was bothering him, which I continued to do. “What are you going to lock me up for?” I asked. “Looking for a bathroom? I’m no lawyer, but I don’t think that is a crime. I walked into a hotel, looking for a restroom, I walked up here and no one stopped me or asked to see any ID, I heard music I decided to take a look and happened to see Prince, who is much shorter than I imagined, and you tell me I can’t be here, fine I’ll go. But could you tell me where I could find the men’s room?”

“Get the hell outta here and if I see you in here again I will lock you up,” he said as we walked away.

Up until this time, I had done all the talking as Dennis is rather quiet and reserved in these situation. However, when he wants to be he can be really funny. He saw his opening and took it. Dennis said to me very loudly, “That guy is really going to be pissed off when he sees us at Keith’s table tomorrow night.”

Epilogue: We really didn’t have a seat at Keith Richard’s table the next night nor did we ever get locked up (which would have been interesting. “What are you in for…?” “We saw Prince!”).  As I stated above I was never a huge Prince fan. But I will share a special piece of Prince memorabilia that I own.

I collect Hard Rock pins, specifically girls and guitars. An ex-girlfriend of mine, Sherry, used to travel a lot for her job so when she would be in a city with a Hard Rock she’d pick me up a pin. She got me this one from Hollywood:

Princepin

When she gave me the pin, Sherry  told me about the conversation that she had with the girl behind the counter at the Hard Rock. The girl told Sherry that they didn’t have any more purple ones since they only made a limited amount of them. Sherry took the blue one because it was close to purple and looked much better than the other colors they had. I didn’t care I just thought it was great that I got a HRC pin in the shape of Prince’s guitar. Purple would have been cool, and if it was from Minneapolis instead of Hollywood that would have been cooler.

R.I.P. Prince.

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R.I.P. David Bowie

January 12, 2016

bowie

You’ve got your mother in a whirl, she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl…

And with that opening salvo I was introduced to the music of David Bowie sometime in the mid 70’s. Who was this guy? Was was he even a guy? Was he even human? Ziggy Stardust? Thin White Duke? Aladdin Sane? This guy has had more makeovers then some of those Mob Wives. While some other male rock stars flirted with androgyny Bowie embraced it. Yet through all of the makeovers and persona changes, the music still stood out. The hits are too numerous to mention The guy could write, sing and perform.

And his performing wasn’t limited to the music industry he was also an actor, appearing in such films as The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Last Temptation of Christ (as Pontius Pilate no less!) and on Broadway in the Elephant Man. Calling Bowie multi-talented would be an understatement.

A former colleague of mine mentioned this morning that Bowie was almost a Bond villain. I remembered this as well. He was offered the role of Max Zorin in A View to a Kill. Bowie turned it down to do Labyrinth instead. The Zorin role eventually went to Christopher Walken. However I can still imagine Bowie as the sociopathic Zorin.

I was fortunate enough to see Bowie perform live twice. The first time was on the Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983 in Madison Square Garden. By this point of his career, Bowie had abandoned all the freaky personas and just put on a great rock-n-roll show with limited theatrics. I do recall the stage being cool with columns and a moon hanging from the ceiling. At the end of the night that moon opened up and small inflated quarter moons descended from it.

I recall my date that night a girl who I met at Hofstra University the previous semester, who I’ll call Sandy, wanted one of the moons. I eventually snagged three for her as we had upgraded out seats due to little hustling by me. We watched a majority of the show from the second row in the orchestra!

The second time I saw Bowie live was on the Rosie O’Donnell Show sometime in 1997. A friend and former roommate of mine, Patrick, was a writer on the show and he got me two tickets. I asked my friend Donna if she wanted to go and she agreed. Donna is one of the biggest Bowie fans I know. To this day she does not believe me when I tell her this, but as of the morning of the show I had no idea whom the guests were going to be.

I like being surprised when I got to a live TV show. When the show opened and the guests were announced Donna punched me in the arm saying, “You didn’t tell me David Bowie was going to be here!!!”

“I had no idea,” I replied.

“Yeah, right,” she said, as she rolled her eyes at me.

For the life of me I cannot remember what songs Bowie played that morning. However I do remember that he played a few extra songs that Rosie mentioned would be used in the summer when she was on vacation. After the show my friend Pat took me and Donna on a tour of the studio and the backstage. Needless to say Donna had her eyes peeled for David Bowie but he had already left the building.

This morning when I learned of Bowie’s passing I texted Donna. She got back to me and asked if I remembered seeing him on the Rosie O’Donnell Show. I told her that I still had scars on my arms from when she was grabbing me while he was singing. I told you she was a big fan.

As for Bowie on the Rosie O’Donnell show you can see it here:

 

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On October 19th…

October 19, 2015

I was born on this date in 1962. Please indulge me as I’d like to take a look at October 19 through the years. Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield was born on the same exact day as me. Once at a press conference, I brought up this fact to him and even showed him my driver’s license to prove it. Holyfield laughed as did the other reporters at our table.

October 19, 1962 also saw the United States in the opening days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. That morning, President Kennedy met with Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff before leaving for a scheduled trip to Ohio and Illinois. They discussed various military actions and the possible consequences. Ironically this meeting took place two years to the day that The United States imposed a near-total trade embargo against Cuba. For more irony, in 1917, the same year Kennedy was born, Love Field in Dallas was opened on October 19.

Traveling back to the 18th Century, 1781 to be precise, Charles Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington and Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau at Yorktown Virginia on October 19, essentially ending the Revolutionary War.

In 2004, Curt Schilling and his bloody sock beat the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series to even things up at three games apiece. Exactly one year to the day, I was sitting in Yankee Stadium watching the Yankees beat the Marlins in Game 2 of the World Series. What a difference a year makes!

In 1994, my friend Dennis and I went to see Pulp Fiction. I remember coming out of the theater in awe. I had never seen anything like that film before. It was funny, it was violent, it was gory, it was told in a non-linear format and it was immediately placed in my Top 10 favorite films of all-time list.

Aside from Mr. Holyfield, there are a few other celebrities whom share my birthday. These include artist Peter Max, Journalist Jack Anderson, actor John Lithgow and Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch) as well as wrestler turned actor, Tor Johnson (Plan 9 From Outer Space). Lithgow hails from the great city of Rochester, which is the same place my wife was born and raised. If I ever meet Lithgow, I will have two points of reference to start a conversation with him. In an ironic twist both Reed and Johnson also died on the same day, May 12!

Former First Daughter Amy Carter (1967), director producer, screenwriter and son of Ivan, Jason Reitman (1977), first round pick in the 1986 NBA Draft out of North Carolina, Brad Daugherty (1965), actor and writer Jon Favreau (1966) whom I once met at a Bruce Springsteen concert; and South Park co-creator Trey Parker (1969) all came into the world on this day. My former co-worker Lydia and a friend from the old neighborhood, Mary, also share my birthday. Mad Magazine writer and Facebook friend Dick DeBartolo also claims 10/19 as his birthday.

There are a few notable deaths on this date. During a trip to Ireland I learned that Writer Jonathan Swift died on October 19, 1745. Swift wrote one of my favorite pieces of satire, A Modest Proposal. Academy Award winner Actor Gig Young, whom has a part in one of my favorite movies, That Touch of Mink, shot and killed his wife then turned the gun on himself in 1987.

Needless to say 19 has always been my lucky number. I always tried to secure that uniform number when I played any organized sports. Some legendary number 19’s in the sports world are: Bryan Trottier of the New York Islanders, Willis Reed of the New York Knicks, the San Diego Padres Tony Gwynn and Johnny Unitas of the (then) Baltimore Colts and then the San Diego Chargers. All of them are Hall of Famers and none of them were born on my birthday. However, Jose Batista of the Toronto Blue Jays who sports number 19, does share my birthday. I’m guessing he took the number to honor my, er I mean his birthday. During his brief stay in Toronto, John Cullen (no relation) wore number 19 for the Maple Leafs. I would love to get that jersey as a gift!

On the night of October 18, 1977, Reggie Jackson hit three home runs securing his World Series MVP Award and giving the New York Yankees their first championship in 15 years. The next day the Daily News headline shouted: REGGIE REGGIE REGGIE! When I met Reggie I got him to sign a copy of the paper with the Inscription: To Tommy Happy Birthday Reggie Jackson. The date of the Newspaper? October 19, 1977.

As fate would have it, this year I get a special event on my birthday as well. George Lucas and the Walt Disney Company must know what a huge Star Wars fan that I am. They will show the third and final trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens tonight during Monday Night Football. Happy birthday to me!

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I’m Not Dying for the Mets to Win the World Series

October 17, 2015

I do NOT hate the New York Mets. Like any red blooded, pinstripe wearing Yankee fan, my hatred in baseball is reserved for the Boston Red Sox.

I actually used to be a Mets fan. I still have an undying love for Tom Seaver. I have a Tom Seaver wall in my home office with pictures, magazine covers, baseball cards and figures. To this day, Seaver is the only player whom I trekked up to Cooperstown for an induction ceremony. I had great seats that day too! I was in the same row as Tom’s wife Nancy and their two daughters. Tom Terrific has a lovely family.

The Tom Seaver Wall

The Tom Seaver Wall in my office

The first baseball game I ever attended was a Mets game in 1973. Harry Parker was the starting pitcher and Willie Mays was in centerfield that Saturday afternoon in April. The Mets beat the Expos 5-0. Through the wonder of the internet you can view the box score right here: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1973/B04210NYN1973.htm

KingSeaver

So why did I switch my allegiance from the team in Queens to the one in the Bronx? One man and one man only: M. Donald Grant. When Mr. Grant traded Tom Seaver to the Reds in 1977 I was done with the Mets. That same night Mr. Grant also traded Dave Kingman to the San Diego Padres for Paul Siebert and Bobby Valentine. Yes THAT Bobby Valentine! After these two trades I came to the conclusion that the “M” in M. Donald Grant stood for “Moron.” OK That was a cheap shot, as momma always taught me not to speak ill of the dead. Moving on…

I really SHOULD hate the Mets. And if I were a superstitious man I would. In 1969, the Mets turned the baseball world on it’s ear. This team that had never finished better than last or next to last finished in first place in the newly created National League East Division Then they won the first ever National League Championship Series by beating the Atlanta Braves in three straight games. Then after dropping Game 1 of the World Series they swept the next four.

In 1986, after an exciting NLCS that saw the Mets beat the Astros in six games the Mets beat the Red Sox in seven games to win the World Series. Every Mets fan knows exactly where they were during game six, possibly the most exciting World Series Game of all time.

Here is why I should have a deep seeded hatred for the Mets. On September 30, 1969, my dad died. A mere 16 days later, the Mets won the World Series. On October 7, 1986 my mom died. Twenty days later the Mets won the World Series. Hence the title of this blog post. Thankfully I am not a superstitious man.

I know you are probably thinking I’m crazy and it’s just a weird coincidence. Well I am crazy and it is a weird coincidence! There really is no need for me to worry. I am not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. (I think I just heard God laughing!)

However, if the Mets make it past the Cubs; and if anything should happen to me between now and the end of the World Series, bet the house on the Mets. Just remember that I died for your team to succeed! There is what could possibly be my final gift to my friends whom are Met fans.

With that said, Lets Go Cubbies! I don’t want to die, just yet!

antimets

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Trumped Up!

July 27, 2015

Trump

Allow me to get political for a moment.

Donald Trump is the type of person whom I am trying to decide whether he is absolutely nuts or if I actually like him. Admit it America you’re all waiting to see what he will do or say next. It’s OK, so am I. It’s about time a Presidential candidate appears on the scene who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. I’ll admit I was not happy with his disrespect of John McCain, but there are worse things he could have said.

It’s refreshing to see that Trump doesn’t need any campaign contributions. In a recent article his net worth was revealed to be around 8.7 billion dollars. So you won’t be getting any pesky phone calls from his staff asking for contributions.

The majority of Americans complain about “politics as usual.” There is nothing usual about Donald J. Trump. From his hair, to his net worth, to his television shows, to his name all over buildings in New York City. This guy is anything but a typical politician. In fact he is NOT a politician at all, he is a business man. That in itself makes the American political machine nervous. He doesn’t have to adhere to the political rule book.

Let him say what he wants. Let him insult minority groups and war heroes. Let him exercise his freedom of speech. The First Amendment is a beautiful thing as you’re not stupid enough to believe that you can say whatever it is you want to say. Donald Trump is not stupid. You don’t acquire 8.7 billion dollars by being stupid. He may be crazy but he’s not stupid.

From 1952 until 2004 with the exception of 1964, there has been a Nixon, Dole or Bush on the Republican ticket. Think about that. For over a half a century only four men have consistently appeared in one of the two top slots of the Republican ticket. Time for some new blood.

Now for arguments sake let’s say Jeb Bush receives the 2016 Republican nomination and Hilary Clinton is the Democratic choice for President. Welcome to the 2016 Presidential Election or the 1992 Presidential Election Part II (only the first names have changed). Are Jeb and Hillary REALLY the best choices America has to offer? This is like saying, “Hey America we want you to eat healthy but your only choices are McDonalds and Burger King.”

Why isn’t Joe Biden throwing his hat into the ring? Why wouldn’t a two term Vice President want to run for the top job? Where the hell is Al Gore? He’s an intelligent guy, and we haven’t heard much from him lately. On the Republican side, it seems every day a new candidate is announcing his or her run. At present there are 33 confirmed Republican candidates and two potentials. That’s more than a Major League Baseball roster.

Sure it’s early and anything can happen, but this is kind of fun. The Democrats have pretty much given Hillary the nomination and Trump is currently leading the vast GOP field. Personally I don’t think Trump is going to last but stranger things have happened. Remember in 1972, American knew about Watergate and as a nation was tired of the quagmire that was Vietnam. So what happens? Nixon gets reelected in a landslide. Nixon won every state with the exception of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia which went to George McGovern. To paraphrase the great Dennis Miller, “I didn’t even run that year and I almost tied McGovern.”

In 2000 and 2004 it was nice to finally see some close elections. The 2000 election has become infamous for too many reasons to list here. Supposedly, George W. Bush was an idiot (this is NOT my opinion but the consensus of the liberal media) yet he was elected to two terms. Truth be told he was an average student at Yale. Through his first three years at Yale, Bush’s grades averaged out to 77 on a 100-point scale. He only received one D during his college career, in an astronomy course his freshman year. His 2004 opponent, John Kerry, also went to Yale. In Kerry’s freshman year the future senator tallied four D’s. Bush’s cumulative average of 77 was a point higher than Kerry’s! I didn’t attend Yale and my GPA was 3.8. I beat them both!

The 2016 election is a little over 15 months away, which in politics is an eternity. Anything can happen. Hillary is set to testify in October before the House committee investigating the killing of four Americans in a 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, when she was Secretary of State. That should have some interesting results on her campaign as well as her credibility.

As for Trump, I can’t wait to see what he says next. Go Donald, Go! Enjoy it while it lasts, America.

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