Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, on Monday dismissed Trump’s threat to jail Hillary Clinton if he wins the presidency as “a quip.”

The Republican presidential nominee made the threat — an unprecedented break with U.S. political decorum — in the middle of the second presidential debate, held Sunday in St. Louis.

It came as Clinton, the Democratic nominee, said it is “awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”

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Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump threatened to throw Hillary Clinton in jail during their presidential town hall debate on Sunday. (Saul Loeb/Pool/Reuters)

Trump blasted back, “Because you’d be in jail.”

That drew applause in a town hall-style debate that was supposed to be free of audience participation.

A few moments earlier, Trump had said he would instruct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor who would investigate the tens of thousands of emails that Clinton deleted when she was secretary of state.

After saying people across the country were “furious” with Clinton, Trump said, “So we’re going to get a special prosecutor, and we’re going to look into it.” He added: “It’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

“That was a quip,” Conway said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. And on Trump’s threat to appoint a special prosecutor, she said that the candidate was “channelling the frustration” of voters.

Trump’s remarks drew widespread and bipartisan condemnation as being un-American.

Trump’s “jail” line was one of the most-discussed debate moments on social media during the debate. Trump’s campaign seemed proud of the moment, tweeting a video clip of the exchange shortly afterward. Some called it a “mic-drop” moment and the best line of the debate.

The FBI and the Justice Department have closed their investigations into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Pence stands by Trump

Trump’s vice-presidential running mate, Mike Pence, was the subject of rumours that he might bolt the Trump ticket in disgust at the leaked lewd video, in which Trump made vulgar remarks about women.

Pence, however, tried to quell the rumours by praising Trump on Twitter after the debate.

On Monday, Pence added that he believes Trump is sorry for the crude and predatory language about women captured in the 2005 video that became public last week.

Pence also hit the campaign trail Monday and spoke about his faith and the controversy.

“I don’t condone what was said, and I spoke out against it, but the other part of my faith is that I believe in grace,” he said. “I believe in forgiveness and we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven, and last night, my running mate showed America what was in his heart.”

Earlier in the day, Pence told Fox News that Trump “stepped up” during the debate: “He showed humility. He showed strength. He expressed genuine contrition for the words he had used” in the video.

Pence later told CNN he never considered dropping off Trump’s ticket. He said: “It’s the greatest honour of my life.”

“I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with him,” Pence, Indiana’s governor, said on Fox News.

Ryan abandons Trump

Speaker Paul Ryan, who resisted supporting Trump, is now telling congressional Republicans he won’t defend Trump now or in the future, and would spend the next month defending his party’s House majority.

The Wisconsin Republican is holding a conference call with GOP lawmakers. Many of them are worried that their party’s presidential candidate is hurting their chances of winning re-election and is threatening their majority control of the House.

Campaign 2016 Wisconsin

House Speaker Paul Ryan takes the stage at the 1st Congressional District Republican Party of Wisconsin’s annual Fall Fest on Saturday. Ryan took the Republican nominee off the invitation list for the event following the leak of the controversial 2005 tape showing Trump making lewd comments. (Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette/AP)

One person involved in the call says Ryan has not withdrawn his support for Trump, but has said he won’t defend him, either. Instead, he’ll campaign for GOP congressional candidates.

Another says Ryan has told lawmakers that he won’t campaign with Trump. And he is advising GOP candidates “to do what’s best for you in your district.”

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