Trump invites Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 3:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 3:48am

Donald Trump dared a foreign government to commit espionage on the US to hurt his rival on Wednesday, smashing yet another taboo in American political discourse and behaviour.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’ll be able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said, referring to deleted emails from the private account Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state. “I think you’ll probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Trump made the remarks at a lengthy and unusual news conference in Doral, Florida, in which he also suggested the Geneva Convention treaties protecting prisoners of war are outdated, told a reporter to “be quiet” and said the fact that the Democratic National Committee may have been hacked was because foreign leaders lack respect for the US government.

He also called President Barack Obama “the most ignorant president in our history,” alleged that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had disparaged Obama with “the N-word,” and inaccurately paraphrased Obama speaking in a stereotype of African-American dialect.

“His views of the world, as he says, ‘don’t jive,’” Trump said.

Trump was hoping to use the news conference to taunt Democrats for failing to focus on Islamic State during their convention and Clinton for holding no news conferences in nearly a year.

The comments urging Russia to hack the State Department immediately drew widespread attention because they lend the impression that Trump is actively encouraging another country to commit a cybercrime against the US to directly affect the presidential election. If the emails are hacked and Trump wins, it also could make him appear beholden to foreign interests.

“This undoubtedly sends a message to Russia that Trump is, at best, a fan, and at worst, manipulable and a bit of a loose cannon,” said Olga Oliker, director of the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Russia will look at this, whether it’s political theater or not, as (confirmation) that Trump would be better for them than Clinton, who would take a measured approach and discourage things that run counter to US interests.”

Allies of Trump, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, asserted soon after the news conference that the candidate was joking. But Trump, given the chance to clarify while he was in front of reporters, did not back down when asked whether it gave him pause that another government may have Clinton’s emails.

“No, it gives me no pause,” he said, adding that what gives him pause is Clinton’s destruction of the messages.

“If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I’ve got to be honest with you. I’d love to see them,” he added.

Shortly after the news conference, Trump tweaked his position further on Twitter, suggesting that any hacked emails should be shared with law enforcement rather than the public or Trump: “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!”

Experts suspect that Russian agents are behind the hack and release of Democratic Party officials’ emails last week that showed party leaders discussing ways to undermine Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign against Clinton. The Democratic Party is supposed to be neutral, and the revelations in the emails — including discussions about using Sanders’ faith against him — led to the abrupt resignation of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., as party chairwoman.

Trump has been actively promoting the issue in making the case that Clinton “rigged” the system in her favour. But the Trump campaign seemed well aware of the potential for damage in his latest comments, quickly issuing a follow-up statement from Indiana Governor Mike Pence, his running mate, that called on punishment for the hackers.

“If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences,” Pence said. “That said, the Democrats (are) singularly focusing on who might be behind it and not addressing the basic fact that they’ve been exposed as a party who not only rigs the government, but rigs elections while literally accepting cash for federal appointments is outrageous.”

Trump often has praised Putin and has claimed to have met him, but on Wednesday, he denied that they have met. He also denied multiple media reports that he is in debt to Russian lenders, but declined, again, to release his tax returns, citing an audit.

Democrats, who have been on the defensive about the content of the emails, as well as Clinton’s use of a private email server on which she sent sensitive information, quickly seized on Trump’s comments as evidence in their argument that he lacks the temperament and judgment to lead the country.

Representative Adam B. Schiff, D-California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, called it “staggeringly poor judgment even for him” and “breathtakingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“What Donald Trump did today needs to be examined not through a political lens, but this is a national security issue now,” Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, said during a Democratic National Convention lunch in Philadelphia hosted by the Wall Street Journal. “The idea that someone who is seeking this office would be calling on a foreign power to commit espionage and retaliating on us for any reason is concerning.”