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Story highlights

Both the meeting and press conference that followed were staged to draw a stark contrast with Trump

Clinton has pointed to her four years as secretary of state as one of her major qualifications

(CNN) —  

Standing in front of a row of American flags and white pillars resembling those at the White House, Hillary Clinton touted support from national security leaders, reminded the country of her role in killing Osama bin Laden, and chastised – with a touch of theatrical flare – her Republican opponent as clueless and entirely out of his element.

With this one brief press conference, Clinton signaled loud and clear: I’ve done this before.

Just two months out from Election Day with the race between Clinton and Donald Trump tightening, the former secretary of state’s meeting on Friday with a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts and the press conference that followed demonstrated the increasing prominence of national security in the 2016 campaign.

Seizing an opening after a string of gaffes this week left Trump vulnerable, Clinton told reporters here that the 2016 election is the “most important in our lifetime” that calls for “rational, confident and even-keeled leadership.”

“No conversation about our national security would be complete unless we acknowledged that the nominee on the other side promises to do things that will make us less safe,” Clinton said. “National security experts on both sides of the aisle are chilled by what they’re hearing from the Republican nominee.”

Clinton at length discussed the news that North Korea had conducted another underground nuclear test, saying it was yet another reminder of the threats the United States and its allies face.

“ISIS and North Korea’s quest for a nuclear weapon are not entirely unconnected. Because the greatest threat of all would be terrorists getting their hands on loose nuclear material,” she said.

Friday’s meeting and press conference, held at the storied New-York Historical Society, appeared staged to draw a stark contrast with Trump, whose comments this week raised further questions about his readiness to be commander in chief.

The brash businessman’s performance at an NBC foreign policy forum earlier in the week was widely panned. In particular, Trump’s false claim that he had opposed the Iraq War and his comment that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a better leader than President Barack Obama drew fierce criticism.

Topping off a tumultuous week was Trump’s appearance Thursday on the Russian-owned TV station RT America. The campaign later said it did not realize Trump’s conversation with Larry King would air on RT, and that they would not have agreed to the interview had they known.

On Friday, as Clinton began to walk away from the podium at the press conference, she paused when a reporter shouted a question asking that she respond to Trump’s appearance on RT America.

For several moments Clinton stood still, shaking her head – then returned to the podium.

“Every day that goes by – this just becomes more and more of a reality television show,” she said. “It is beyond one’s imagination to have a candidate for president praising a Russian autocrat like Vladimir Putin.”

She added: “So can I say I was surprised? I’m not sure anything surprises us anymore.”

Meeting with security officials

Clinton’s campaign, in an effort to paint Trump as a national security risk, has kept close tabs on former defense officials who have endorsed the former secretary of state – particularly those who worked in Republican administrations.

At Friday’s meeting, which the campaign dubbed a “working session,” Michael Chertoff – who served as President George W. Bush’s final secretary of homeland security, sat at Clinton’s side.

Richard Fontaine, former foreign policy advisor to Republican Sen. John McCain, and Michael Morell, who worked for both Obama and Bush, were also at the meeting.

Clinton has pointed to her four years as secretary of state as one of her major qualifications to be president.

Many of the participants at Friday’s meeting – including former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, former CIA Director David Petraeus and former director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matt Olsen – served with Clinton in the Obama administration.

Clinton on Friday said when it comes to foreign policy, partisanship simply doesn’t work.

“We won’t always see eye to eye, but when it comes to questions of war, peace and the safety of our country, we can’t let party affiliation stand between us,” she said.