US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump invited Russia to dig up tens of thousands of “missing” emails from Hillary Clinton’s time at the State Department, prompting political foes to accuse him of dangerously urging a foreign power to spy on the United States, Reuters reports.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said at a news conference in Doral, Florida, on Wednesday.
Clinton, his Democratic rival, responded with a campaign statement saying he was posing a possible national security threat.
A spokesman for Trump, Jason Miller, later tried to tamp down the storm of protest, saying Trump did not urge Russia to hack Clinton’s emails.
Trump was referring to a private email system Clinton kept while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
She handed over thousands of emails in 2015 to US officials probing that system, but she did not release about 30,000 emails she said were personal and not work-related.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of the issue found no basis for criminal charges, but FBI director James Comey said there was evidence Clinton was “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information.
By focusing on Clinton’s email saga, Trump drew attention away from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia where US President Barack Obama was due to speak on Wednesday night and Clinton was expected to accept the party’s presidential nomination on Thursday.
At his news conference, Trump dismissed suggestions that WikiLeaks’ release of embarrassing Democratic Party emails last week was engineered by Russia to meddle in the US election.
The Democratic Party chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned on Sunday after the leaked emails showed party leaders favoring Clinton over her rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, for the presidential nomination.
Cyber security experts and US officials have said there was evidence that Russia engineered the release of the sensitive party emails in order to influence the presidential election.
“It is so far-fetched, it’s so ridiculous,” Trump said of that notion on Wednesday. He suggested that China or some other party could be involved.
Russia has brushed aside suggestions it was involved. “I don’t want to use four-letter words,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday.
Trump, who has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in the past, said on Wednesday he did not know the leader.
He said his closest interaction with Russia was selling a Florida home to a Russian for more than he paid for it.
Miller, the Trump campaign spokesman, said on Twitter that Trump was not encouraging Russia to hack into Clinton’s emails but rather was urging anyone who had her emails to hand them to the FBI.
On Twitter, Trump issued a similar appeal, saying if anyone had Clinton’s emails, “perhaps they should share them with the FBI!”
But the Clinton campaign and intelligence experts said the comments raised questions about Trump’s judgment.
“This is a national security issue now,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters in Philadelphia.
“The idea that you would have any American calling for a foreign power to commit espionage in the United States for the purposes of somehow changing an election, we’re now in national security space,” he said.
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