President Trump is planning to bring a woman he pardoned right after she spoke in support of him at the Republican National Convention and an Ultimate Fighting Champion performer as guests to the first debate, officials said.
Alice Johnson was pardoned by the president in late August. Colby Covington, the fighter, has been a strong Trump supporter for some time.
Mr. Trump’s adviser Jason Miller had teased an “intriguing” guest list on Twitter on Monday night, but the other guests are said to be a range of Trump advisers and family members. (In 2016, Mr. Trump’s “surprise guests” for the second debate against Hillary Clinton were women who had accused her husband of sexual misconduct.)
Mr. Trump traveled to the debate site with aides including his campaign manager, Bill Stepien; his political adviser, Mr. Miller; his White House adviser, Stephen Miller; the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows; and the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, will also join the group at the debate.
Over the last few weeks, some of those advisers have worked with Mr. Trump in private sessions at the White House and at his private club in Bedminster, N.J., to engage in some level of debate preparation. Despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to play down his preparations, he has held more than a half-dozen sessions with advisers, led by Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey.
Mr. Trump often has trouble focusing on the task at hand, and aides have privately said they don’t think he’s heading into the debate having internalized what advisers have coached him to do.
Aides have tried to drill down on ways in which he can be on offense during the debate, as opposed to simply parrying things that Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic opponent, says. Two people familiar with the briefings said that aides had tried to impress upon the president that Mr. Biden was likely to call him a “liar” at the outset of the debate, and that they had urged him not to react.
Mr. Trump has made clear to advisers he plans to bring up Mr. Biden’s son Hunter repeatedly and to raise questions about his overseas work.
The two advisers who have tried to prepare Mr. Trump for what he might face — unleashing a torrent of insults at him — have been Mr. Christie, who played Mr. Biden in preparatory sessions, and Kellyanne Conway, the former White House counselor, according to people familiar with what took place.
One issue that advisers have grappled with in the last two days is how Mr. Trump will handle questions about his taxes, after The New York Times reported that he had paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. Aides expect Mr. Biden to highlight the issue during the debate, and the Bidens released their 2019 tax returns on Tuesday, showing that they had paid $288,000 in federal income tax.
Some Trump aides have suggested that Mr. Trump highlight the number of jobs provided by his company, as well as revisit a line he’s used in the past, that he’s simply taking advantage of a lax tax code.
But senior campaign officials said Mr. Trump was in an upbeat mood and was not participating in any last-minute debate prep en route to Cleveland, because he was “ready to go.”
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