NEW YORK — Donald Trump called President Vladimir Putin of Russia "a better leader" than President Obama, offering the praise in an interview with "Fox and Friends" on Thursday, just a day after saying he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton's e-mail.
Asked about comments he had made Wednesday at a news conference in Florida, where he said "Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama," Trump reiterated his views in slightly starker terms.
"I said he's a better leader than Obama," Trump said. "I said he's a better leader than Obama, because Obama's not a leader, so he's certainly doing a better job than Obama is, and that's all."
Trump also tried to walk back, in part, comments he made Wednesday about Russia hacking Clinton's e-mails — an extraordinary moment in which the Republican nominee basically urged Russia, an adversary, to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.
"Of course, I'm being sarcastic," Trump said in the interview taped Wednesday that aired Thursday. "But you have 33,000 e-mails deleted, and the real problem is what was said in those e-mails from the Democratic National Committee. You take a look at what was said in those e-mails, it's disgraceful. It's disgraceful."
Trump seemed to be conflating the roughly 30,000 e-mails on Clinton's private server during her time as secretary of state, which her lawyers deleted as personal, and the roughly 20,000 Democratic National Committee e-mails that had been hacked.
Trump's comments Wednesday about Russian hacking set off a firestorm of criticism, and his efforts to recalibrate his remarks began hours after he looked into a bank of television cameras and declared, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing."
Trump posted on Twitter on Wednesday that he was simply urging Russia — if it had indeed hacked Clinton — to hand her e-mails over to the proper authorities.
Some Republicans have stepped forward to defend Trump.
On Thursday, Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor, defended Trump in a radio interview, saying, "The Russians have those e-mails, they've had them for some time."
"If they could get into that DNC server, they owned her server in Poughkeepsie," Giuliani said. "And not only did they own it, but so did the Russians, possibly the Israelis, maybe a couple of other allies. And by the way, we do the same thing to them so don't get all upset."
In a radio interview with Laura Ingraham on Thursday morning, Ingraham asked Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, Trump's running mate, "Should Americans be concerned that the Republican nominee is inviting a foreign government to hack into government e-mails?"
Pence, echoing the campaign's public posture, said several times that Trump was just being "sarcastic" and he sought to reframe Trump's remarks.
"Well it's absolutely not what he said," Pence said. "What he said — what I said — was, clearly if Russia or any foreign country was interfering or intervening or engaging in illegal activity in the United States, in our elections or otherwise, that there be serious consequences."