Doral, Florida (CNN) – Donald Trump appeared to call on Russian hackers Wednesday to find 30,000 of Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails, adding a stunning twist to the uproar over Moscow’s alleged intervention in the presidential election
“They probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do. They probably have her 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted because you’d see some beauties there. So let’s see,” Trump said at a news conference, referring to emails that Clinton judged as personal and did not hand over to the State Department from her private server, which she used to conduct official business.
The billionaire businessman then went even further, in remarks that left open the possibility that he would be open to Moscow staging a new hack against the United States to find the emails.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,”
Trump said during a news conference in Florida.
Trump’s comments marked an unprecedented appeal to a foreign country to essentially launch an espionage operation against a political opponent. They come as Democrats gathering for their convention in Philadelphia are already grappling with a hack of emails at the Democratic National Committee, which were later posted on WikiLeaks.
Clinton’s campaign argued Trump is jeopardizing national security with his appeal to Russia.
“This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,” said Hillary for America senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan. “That’s not hyperbole, those are just the facts. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”
Trump rapid response director Steven Cheung pushed back on the notion that the GOP nominee had invited Russia to hack Clinton’s emails.
He maintained that Trump had “absolutely not” done so. “What he intended was hand them over, yes. But inviting” goes too far, he said. “I think that’s a completely ridiculous thing to say that he’s inviting a country to hack a presidential candidates’ emails.”
Yet former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta took the comments as clear-cut, questioning Trump’s loyalty to the United States in an interview CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“No presidential candidate who’s running to be president of the United States ought to be asking a foreign country, particularly Russia, to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts to try to determine what the Democratic candidate may or may not be doing,” said Panetta, a Clinton ally.
“This just is beyond my own understanding of the responsibilities that candidates have to be loyal to their country and to their country alone, not to reach out to somebody like Putin and Russia, and try to engage them in an effort to try to, in effect, conduct a conspiracy against another party,” he said.
Trump’s comments represented a stunning twist in a controversy about Russia’s alleged intervention in the presidential election after the release of DNC emails, which appeared to show that Democratic leaders were tilting the playing field against Clinton primary opponent Bernie Sanders.
US officials have said the emails were hacked from DNC servers in an operation originating in Russia that appeared to be linked to Moscow’s intelligence agency.
Trump also claimed during his news conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lack of respect for the US prompted him to once use the “N word,” implying that he was referring to President Barack Obama. There are no published reports to back up Trump’s allegation about Putin’s use of the racially derogatory term, however.
“I was shocked. Number one, he doesn’t like him. Number two, he doesn’t respect him,” Trump said.
He called Russia’s potential involvement in the hack another sign of Russia’s “disrespect for our country.”
Trump argued that US-Russia relations would be better under his presidency than if Clinton took charge of the Oval Office, saying he would treat Putin “firmly” but would seek to bolster ties between the US and Russia.