The Republican presidential nominee was referring to the widely held suspicion that Russia is responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee’s servers, resulting in the leak of tens of thousands of emails just days before the party’s nominating convention in Philadelphia.
Trump said that he hoped the hackers had also accessed Clinton’s private email servers. “They probably have her 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted.”
Trump then addressed the rogue nation directly, saying “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
By actively hoping that American servers were hacked by another nation, Trump broke an unwritten but cardinal rule of American public office: You don’t root against the United States, even when your political opponent is in power.
Regardless of party or platform, American public officials are expected to champion U.S. interests and defend U.S. national security. Trump seemed to do the opposite Wednesday.
Within moments of Trump’s press conference, his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), released a statement distancing himself from the nominee’s words. “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.
“I find those kinds of comments to be totally outrageous,” Leon Panetta, a former secretary of defense and director of central intelligence in the Obama administration, said of Trump’s comments. “You’ve got now a presidential candidate who is in fact asking the Russians to engage in American politics. I just think that is beyond the pale.”
Panetta, who has endorsed Clinton, said “this kind of statement only reflects the fact that [Trump] truly is not qualified to be president of the United States.”
Trump, however, doubled down on his demand for Clinton’s emails in a tweet shortly after the press conference.
The 33,000 number refers to emails that Clinton said she and her staff deleted from her servers because they contained “personal and private” information, including correspondence about her daughter Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.
Earlier this year, FBI Director James Comey said an exhaustive investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state revealed that she and her staff were “extremely careless” in their handling of documents. But he recommend to the Department of Justice that “no charges” were appropriate.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also pushed back against Trump's hope that Russia successfully penetrates U.S. servers. “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election,” Brendan Buck, Ryan's spokesman, told BuzzFeed News.
Trump declined to say whether or not Putin should stay out of U.S. elections, telling the assembled press Wednesday, “I’m not going to tell Putin what to do. Why should I tell Putin what to do?”
Clinton's campaign was also quick to respond to Trump's press conference.
"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," Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday. "This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue."
Editor’s note: Donald Trump
This article has been updated to include comments from Mike Pence, Brendan Buck and Jake Sullivan.