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Trump speaks without teleprompter at fundraising dinner in Stateline

STATELINE — Donald Trump headlined a fundraiser for the Nevada Republican Party on Friday, making an appearance without a teleprompter and taking questions from the audience.

About 840 people attended the $200 a plate event at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe in Stateline to hear the GOP nominee for president. Trump’s presence was the result of a conversation that started last year with Nevada GOP chairman Michael McDonald.

Trump touched down on some key themes of his campaign, including better trade deals to boost the economy, rebuilding the military and criticizing the Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare.”

Trump praised a Nevada business partner, TI owner Phil Ruffin. Ruffin and Trump partnered together on Trump International in Las Vegas. Pointing to Ruffin, Trump praised Ruffin’s skill at playing poker and business.

The U.S. needs to use people like Ruffin to make deals, Trump said, adding that the people who make deals for the U.S. now are “political hacks.”

“We have got to get our guys like the Phils of this country,” Trump said, adding that nation needs to use its “best and brightest.”

Trump’s comment drew frequent rounds of laughter as he cracked jokes.

“Remember the expression ‘best and brightest’?” Trump said. “You’re probably not allowed to say that anymore because it’s not politically correct.”

Trump said that that the phrase “silent majority” isn’t applicable “because we have a very noisy majority.”

Trump criticized the $400 million cash payment the U.S. made to Iran in January. He’s criticized it in the past as a ransom for the five American prisoners who were released. The Obama administration has denied that characterization but said the cash was used as leverage and not sent until the prisoners were released.

“I think the $400 million — to me, that’s money laundering,” Trump said.

The money, sent in international currency aboard an unmarked U.S. plane, represented principal owed by the U.S. in a settlement from a dispute with Iran that dated back to the 1970s. Iran had had paid $400 million to the U.S. for military equipment, which never came after the U.S.-backed Iranian leadership was topped in 1979. The U.S. government has said the dispute was settled in separate channels from the negotiations for the release of prisoners. It was the first payment of a settlement that included $1.3 billion in interest.

Trump said he’d protect the Second Amendment and that Obamacare needs to go.

“Obamacare is a disaster, and it’s going to explode,” Trump said.

Trump blasted his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“We are running against a dishonest person,” Trump said.

Trump took note of the attack ads against him, briefly mentioning one ad that features an apparent Ku Klux Klan member who supports him. Trump dismissed it as a desperate move using a person he doesn’t even know.

“I think people are seeing what a bunch of phonies they are,” Trump said of the opposition.

Asked about his top priorities, Trump said they are a secure border, rebuilding the military and education. He added in a fourth: better trade deals.

“I just want to make better deals because they’re made by incompetent people,” Trump said.

Asked if the Justice Department would investigate the Clinton Foundation if he’s elected, Trump didn’t show his hand. But he said he’s going to have a lot to say about that soon.

The event netted more than $70,000 after expenses, a party official said.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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