DORAL, Fla. — Donald Trump said Wednesday that he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s e-mail and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing,” Trump said during a news conference here before he flew to Pennsylvania for a campaign event. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Trump’s call marked another bizarre moment in the mystery of whether Vladimir Putin’s government has been seeking to influence the United States’ presidential race.
His comments came amid questions about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers, which US intelligence agencies have told the White House they have “high confidence” was the work of the Russian government.
At the same news conference, Trump also appeared to leave the door open to accepting Russia’s annexation of Crimea two years ago, which the United States and its European allies consider an illegal seizure of territory. That seizure, and the continued efforts of Russian-aided insurgents to undermine Ukraine’s government, is the reason that the United States and its allies still have economic sanctions in force against Moscow.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2016
When asked whether he would recognize Crimea “as Russian territory” and lift the sanctions, Trump said: “We’ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.”
Trump’s apparent willingness to avoid condemning Russia is a remarkable departure from US policy and Republican Party orthodoxy, and has fueled the questions about Russian meddling in the campaign. Trump has denied that, saying at the news conference that he has never met Putin and has no investments in Russia.
“I would treat Vladimir Putin firmly, but there’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly as opposed to the way they are right now,” he said, “so that we can go and knock out ISIS together.”
Trump later tried to modify his remarks about hacking Clinton’s e-mails, contending they represented an effort to get the Russians to turn over their trove to the FBI.
Trump also said that the political uproar over whether Russia was meddling in the election was a “total deflection” from the embarrassing content of the e-mails. Many Republicans say they agree.
If Trump is serious in his call for Russia to expose Clinton’s e-mails, he would be urging a power often hostile to the United States to violate US law by breaking into a private computer network. He would also be contradicting the Republican platform, which states that cyber- espionage “will not be tolerated,” and promising to “respond in kind and in greater magnitude” to all Chinese and Russian cyberattacks.
Almost as soon as Trump spoke, other Republicans raced in to try to reframe his remarks and argue that Russia should be punished. A spokesman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan termed Russia “a global menace led by a devious thug.” The spokesman, Brendan Buck, added: “Putin should stay out of this election.”
Even Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, Trump’s running mate, issued a statement that seemingly contradicted Trump’s.
“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.
For his part, Trump cast doubt on the conclusion that Russia was behind the hacking.
“I have no idea,” he said. He said the sad thing is that “with the genius we have in government, we don’t even know who took the Democratic National Committee e-mails.”
Trump then argued that if Russia, or any other foreign government, was behind the hacking, it showed just how little respect other nations had for the current administration.
“President Trump would be so much better for US-Russian relations” than a President Clinton, Trump said. “I don’t think Putin has any respect whatsoever for Clinton.”