Matt Lauer has been labeled a 'morning show lightweight' by furious political pundits after he failed to grill Donald Trump on his claim he never supported the Iraq War during a Commander in Chief Forum on Wednesday night - but relentlessly questioned Hillary over her private email scandal.
The NBC Today show host was accused of going too easy on Trump when the Republican candidate repeated his claim to have always 'totally opposed the Iraq war', when in fact he supported an invasion during a 2002 Howard Stern interview.
Instead of stopping Trump in his tracks during the session at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, Lauer accepted his answer and immediately moved onto the next question - even though Clinton had told him during her interview beforehand that Trump had backed the war.
Lauer questioned Clinton for almost seven minutes of a 30 minute segment over her emails, many times talking over before demanding she only briefly touch on other important topics such as ISIS.
'Lauer interrupted Clinton's answers repeatedly to move on. Not once for Trump,' wrote respected Capitol Hill watcher Norman Ornstein on Twitter, adding: 'Tough to be a woman running for president.'
Indeed, the problem for many was that while Lauer seemed to aggressively question Clinton during the first segment of the forum, his questions to Trump were softer, weaker and open-ended, allowing Trump to ignore them or power through unscathed.
Lauer's insistence on pressing and interrupting Clinton on her email debacle while breezing through Trump's answers led to some accusing him of trying to prove his journalistic chops.
'I think Matt Lauer was trying desperately to impress others in the press to prove he's not just a morning show lightweight. Failed.
Democrats accused Lauer of 'wasting time' on a topic that has been discussed throughout the election, and then attempting to hurry Clinton along on later topics, insisting there was not enough time.
Matthew Gertz wrote on Twitter: 'Maybe if Matt Lauer hadn't spent 13 minutes on emails there'd be more time for ISIS.'
Commentator Guy Cecil added: 'I take no issue with asking Hillary tough questions, but with all of the global challenges, this is a waste of time.'
Tommy Vietor, a former aide to President Obama, noted: 'How in the hell does Lauer not factcheck Trump lying about Iraq? This is embarrassingly bad.'
'Seriously — everyone, and I mean everyone, knew this would happen. And Matt Lauer didn't have a followup planned?' wrote political columnist Paul Krugman.
Glenn Kessler, the chief fact checker at The Washington Post, posted a link to NBC's check of Trump's claim and wrote: 'Matt Lauer should have been prepared to do this.'
Matthew Yglesias wrote on Twitter: 'So Matt Lauer's plan is just to let Trump lie about his past statements on Iraq?'
Journalist Jonathan Chait observed: 'Trump lies about opposing Iraq war. Lauer lets it go. No follow up. Unreal.'
In an article for New York Magazine he wrote: 'Lauer's performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking.'
During her answers, Clinton repeated claims that she did not knowingly handle confidential information on her private server.
She said: 'Classified material has a header, which says 'top secret', 'secret', 'confidential'. Nothing, and I have repeatedly said this, and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice. None of the emails sent or received by me had such a header.'
Clinton went on to say that whenever she was sent such an email, on a separate system, she always viewed it in private, even going into tents set up for such a purpose so the messages couldn't be spied on.
She added: 'So I did exactly what I should have done. And I take it very seriously. Always have, always will.'
She also said in her defense that 'hundreds of experienced foreign policy experts, diplomats, defense officials' communicated sensitive information over an unclassified system 'because it was necessary to answer questions and to be able publicly to go as far as we could, which was not acknowledging the program.'
Even if she had used the State Department's email system, her communications may still have been compromised, she argued after Lauer asked her about the possibility of a hack on her secret server.
'Matt, there is no evidence– of course anything is possible. But what is factual is the State Department system was hacked,' she declared.
'Most of the government's systems are way behind the curve. We've had hacking repeatedly, even in the White House. There is no evidence my system was hacked.'
Lauer's frequent interruptions of Clinton later on in the interview also drew allegations of sexism from some, who suggested he allowed Trump far more freedom to talk.
It was left to Hillary herself to point out that Trump initially said he was in favor of the conflict before modifying his position after the war had started.
She said: 'My opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn't. You can go back and look at the record. He supported it. He told Howard Stern he supported it.
'So he supported it before it happened, he supported it as it was happening, and he is on record as supporting it after it happened.'
Asked about her own support for military intervention in Iraq, Clinton says she now accepts that it was 'a mistake', adding that voting to give Bush the authority to take troops into the Middle East was 'my mistake'.
But, she added: 'I have taken my responsibility for my decision. He [Trump] refuses to take responsibility for his support.'
Meanwhile, during an answer on how he would combat ISIS, Trump said 'I was totally against the war in Iraq', a statement that Lauer let slide.
On the campaign trail Trump has repeatedly stated that he opposed the Iraq war from the very beginning while attacking Clinton and Obama's foreign policy which he blames for the rise of ISIS.
But asked whether he supported George Bush's decision to go to war in 2002, before the conflict started, Trump told Howard Stern: 'Yeah. I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.'
It was only later the the Republican nominee modified his position, describing the conflict as a 'mess' and a failure.
NBC did reprise a fact-checking article they previously published on Trump's claim following the show, but some viewers were not appeased.
Posting a link to the fact-checking story on Twitter, Isaac Wright, director of Correct The Record, wrote: 'Too bad they didn't WHEN HE WAS BEING INTERVIEWED.'
Meanwhile Hillary's campaign press secretary Brian Fallon wrote: 'At least Hillary Clinton rebutted him on this lie, or else it would go unchecked.'
MATT LAUER QUESTIONS HILLARY CLINTON OVER HER EMAILS: IN FULL
Lauer: The word judgement has been used a lot around you in the last year and a half, in particular the use of your own personal email and server to communicate while you were Secretary of State.
You said it was a mistake, you said it was not the best choice. You were communicating on highly sensitive topics. Why wasn't it more than a mistake, why wasn't it disqualifying if you want to be Commander in Chief?
Clinton: Well Matt, I have said repeatedly it was a mistake to have a personal account, I would certainly not do it again. I make no excuses for it. It was something that should not have been done.
But the real implication is the handling of classified material, which is what I think the implication of your question was.
I have a lot of experience dealing with classified material, starting when I was on the Senate Armed Services Committee going into the four years as Secretary of State.
Classified material has a header, which says 'top secret', 'secret', 'confidential'. Nothing, and I have repeatedly said this, and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice. None of the emails sent or received by me had such a header.
Lauer: Were some of the emails sent or received by you referring to our drone program? Our covert drone program?
Clinton: Yes, because, of course there were no discussions of the covert actions in progress, being determined, about whether or not to go forward.
But every part of our government had to deal with questions and the Secretary of State's office first and foremost. So there are ways of talking about the drone program...
Lauer (interrupting): You said you thought your communications on that were fairly routine?
Clinton: Well let me say the FBI just released their report about their investigation, they discussed drone matters in the unconfidential section of that report.
Lauer: But Director Comey also said this after reviewing all the information. He said there is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton's position should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.
Clinton: Well, Matt, I just respectfully point to the hundreds of experienced foreign policy experts, diplomats, defense officials who were communicating information on the unclassified system because it was necessary to answer questions and to be able publicly to go as far as we could, which was not acknowledging the program.
But I would be in Pakistan, as I was on several occasions. There might very well have been a strike. I would be asked in a public setting, in an interview, about it.
It was known to have happened. We had to have an answer that did not move into classified area. And I think we handled that appropriately.
Lauer: You mentioned you're in Pakistan. Some of the e-mails you sent and received happened while you were overseas. And Director Comey also said that while they have no proof, we assessed that it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal e-mail accounts.
Clinton: Matt, there is no evidence. Of course anything is possible. But what is factual is the State Department system was hacked.
Most of the government systems are way behind the curve. We've had hacking repeatedly, even in the White House. There is no evidence my system was hacked.
Lauer: Let us bring in Hallie Jackson of NBC News who's been covering this campaign. She's getting questions from our veterans. Hallie, who are you with?
Jackson: Hi, Matt. I'm with Lieutenant Jon Lester (ph), who will stand with me here. He began his military career by enlisting in the Air Force and then switched over to the Navy before he retired, where he flew P-3 Orions in Desert Storm and in Desert Shield. He's a Republican, and he has this question for you, Secretary Clinton.
Clinton: Thank you.
Lester: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much for coming tonight. As a naval flight officer, I held a top secret sensitive compartmentalized information clearance. And that provided me access to materials and information highly sensitive to our warfighting capabilities. Had I communicated this information not following prescribed protocols, I would have been prosecuted and imprisoned.
Secretary Clinton, how can you expect those such as myself who were and are entrusted with America's most sensitive information to have any confidence in your leadership as president when you clearly corrupted our national security?
Clinton: Well, I appreciate your concern and also your experience. But let me try to make the distinctions that I think are important for me to answer your question.
First, as I said to Matt, you know and I know classified material is designated. It is marked. There is a header so that there is no dispute at all that what is being communicated to or from someone who has that access is marked classified.
And what we have here is the use of an unclassified system by hundreds of people in our government to send information that was not marked, there were no headers, there was no statement, top secret, secret, or confidential.
I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system. I took it very seriously.
When I traveled, I went into one of those little tents that I'm sure you've seen around the world because we didn't want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it is that I was seeing that was designated, marked, and headed as classified.
So I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously, always have, always will.
DONALD TRUMP'S POSITION ON THE WAR IN IRAQ: IN FULL
Clinton (in an earlier answer): My opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn't. You can go back and look at the record. He supported it. He told Howard Stern he supported it.
So he supported it before it happened, he supported it as it was happening, and he is on record as supporting it after it happened. I have taken responsibility for my decision.
Trump (asked later about decision he has taken to put Americans in harm's way): Well, I think the main thing is I have great judgment. I have good judgment. I know what's going on. I've called so many of the shots.
And I happened to hear Hillary Clinton say that I was not against the war in Iraq. I was totally against the war in Iraq. From a -- you can look at Esquire magazine from '04. You can look at before that.
And I was against the war in Iraq because I said it's going to totally destabilize the Middle East, which it has.
It has absolutely been a disastrous war, and by the way, perhaps almost as bad was the way Barack Obama got out. That was a disaster.