Donald Trump stated Wednesday that he “hopes” one of the United States’ most antagonistic fellow world powers has unreleased emails from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.
“They probably have her 33,000 emails too. I hope they do,” he said of Russia, adding later: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Trump here is referring to approximately half of more than 60,000 emails on the private server Clinton used as secretary of state which were deleted because they were deemed “personal” and not turned over to State Department investigators. Republicans have cried foul over their deletion.
This is a remarkable expressed wish from an American presidential candidate: That a foreign government that has been pitted against the United States on many foreign policy issues would have or would soon obtain the private emails of his opponent — who is, after all, a potential future American president, against whom those emails could ostensibly be used.
It should be noted that this is not an entirely new avenue of attack for Trump. He has said before, without any evidence, that U.S. enemies “almost certainly” have accessed Clinton’s emails and are using them to blackmail her.
FBI Director James Comey said in rebuking Clinton’s use of the email server earlier this month that it’s possible this happened, but that there was no evidence yet that it was.
“Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account,” he said.
Trump’s line here seems to be highlighting the fact that Clinton deleted her emails, full stop. If Russia can find them, after all, maybe they’ll come to light after all?
Indeed, shortly after his comments caused a wave of controversy Wednesday morning, Trump suggested he was urging Russia to turn the deleted emails over to the FBI, tweeting:
“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!”
But that scenario could also very plausibly lend itself to the kind of cyberespionage — blackmail or otherwise — that Trump already alleged Clinton is being subjected to.
The emails were personal and shouldn’t contain classified information, yes, but many work-related emails Clinton said didn’t contain classified information were later proven by the FBI to have contained some. And even if the information is all personal in nature, that could be used against Clinton, too.
Trump, of course, has gone far outside the mainstream on foreign policy before. He has basically said he might unilaterally pull the United States out of its obligation to defend other NATO countries when attacked if they don’t foot more of the bill for NATO.
“We’re talking about countries that are doing very well,” he told the New York Times last week. “Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, ‘Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.’”
The comment earned stern rebukes from all sides of the American foreign policy debate and foreign leaders. The message it sends to allies, experts said, is that the United States can’t be trusted to honor its foreign commitments — which would be a major problem for the United States’ standing in the world and for maintaining and building relationships with allies.
So Trump is clearly not abiding by the standard protocol of American officials talking carefully about foreign policy.
But Wednesday’s comments ratchet things up even more. Even as he contended that he’s not the preferred candidate of Russia — as Democrats have alleged and Vladimir Putin has suggested — he’s now hoping Russia has potentially damaging information about a possible United States president.
That’s stunning. And while Trump didn’t say he wants Russia to use those emails for blackmail or espionage purposes, his previous comments make clear it’s a possibility he’s very well aware of.