In a freewheeling and unusual news conference, even for him, Donald Trump directly called on Russia to find the estimated 30,000 emails that Hillary Clinton deleted from a controversial private email server she used as secretary of state.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the Republican presidential nominee said, staring directly into the bank of television cameras set up at a golf course he owns outside Miami, Fla. “I think you will probably be mightily rewarded by our press.”
It was a striking moment in an election that has consistently broken the barriers of political tradition. It came after Trump faced intense questioning from reporters over his relationship to Russia amid allegations the country might be trying to influence the outcome of the presidential election on his behalf.
Federal investigators are looking into allegations that Russian intelligence agencies were behind the recent hacking of computer servers at the Democratic National Committee. Last week, Wikileaks released a trove of embarrassing emails among top DNC officials suggesting they were actively biased against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ primary challenge against Clinton. The leak prompted Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign as DNC chair. Wikileaks has suggested there are more damaging emails to come.
On Wednesday, Trump called suggestions voiced by Democrats and the Clinton campaign that Russia was actively trying to sway the campaign on his behalf “a total deflection.” He pointedly denied reports that Trump Organization projects have been funded by Russian business investors. He also denied having any relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he’s previously spoken warmly of.
“I’ve never met Putin,” Trump insisted. “I don’t know who Putin is.”
The celebrity businessman repeatedly declined to say whether he believes Russia is behind the DNC hack or is trying to influence the presidential election, though at one point he suggested that Russia was “probably” not involved. He brushed off a question by a reporter asking if he would specifically call on Russia to stay out of the race.
“I am not going to tell Putin what to do,” Trump declared. “Why should I tell Putin what to do?”
He went back and forth on the idea of whether there was a foreign conspiracy afoot — suggesting there was no proof, but then hinting China might be involved. At the same time, Trump argued it was not the hack that was the news, but rather the “horrible things” that were said in the leaked DNC emails. He pointed to one email that raised questions about Sanders’ faith.
But then, Trump seized on the hack to pivot back toward criticism of Clinton’s use of a private email server, which he has repeatedly said showed bad judgment and put the nation’s security at risk. After he suggested Russia might be able to find Clinton’s deleted emails, Trump repeatedly dodged the question of whether he was really asking a foreign government to hack into the email server of his Democratic rival. As NBC’s Katy Tur pressed him on the issue, Trump snapped, “Be quiet.”
The Clinton campaign quickly seized on Trump’s comments, calling them reckless. “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,” Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser to the Clinton campaign, said in a statement. “This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”
The hour-long news conference came as Trump has maintained an active schedule this week, trying to steal attention away from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where Clinton is formally set to accept her party’s presidential nomination Thursday.
Yahoo News Reporting