In an attempt at damage-control, Donald Trump backtracked on his remarks calling for Russia to investigate Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. In a bizarre twist, Russian meddling has become a central issue in the Presidential campaign.
The Trump/Clinton rivalry is heating up as the Republican candidate held a lengthy press conference in Florida on Wednesday. Trump said, “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. Let’s see if that happens. That will be next. Yes, sir.”
Trump’s remarks were aimed at a recurring theme that has plagued former Secretary of State Clinton. She was called before Senate hearings and grilled over using a personal email server and improperly handling classified material. Approximately 33,000 emails were either deleted or withheld from investigations.
Trump appeared to double-down on his attack when he Tweeted that if anyone had the emails, they should hand them over to the FBI. Trump’s original comments caused an outrage, and he was accused of inviting Russia to intercede in American domestic politics, and possibly even to spy on his political opponent.
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
On Thursday, he suddenly seemed to backtrack. In an interview with Fox News, Trump said, “Of course I’m being sarcastic.” He qualified his statement, reflecting the heat back at the Democrats. “You have 33,000 emails deleted, and the real problem is what was said on the emails from the Democratic National Convention.”
The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2016
The Republican rank and file quickly ran to support their candidate. “He was joking around,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN Thursday morning. “If he tells you I’m joking, you take him at his word.”
Newt Gingrich, a respected American political consultant, former politician, and historian, also came out in support of Trump.
The media seems more upset by Trump’s joke about Russian hacking than by the fact that Hillary’s personal server was vulnerable to Russia
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) July 27, 2016
In an unrelated though similar stumble for Clinton, last Friday, Wikileaks released emails from Clinton staffers plotting to undermine the Campaign of her opponent in the primaries, Bernie Sanders. The plans discussed were questionable, distasteful, and possibly unethical, criticizing Sanders for his (lack of) religious beliefs.
“I think I read he is an atheist,” one staffer wrote. “This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
This disturbing development led to the removal of Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair. Trump’s Russian reference, as bizarre as it seemed, was disturbingly similar to claims made by the Democrats. Though it is unclear how Wikileaks acquired the emails, Clinton’s campaign announced earlier in the year that their system had been hacked, allegedly by a Russian source.
The Democrats responded to Trump’s email offensive by blaming the Russians, claiming the Soviets were attacking them in order to help the Republican candidate. Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, said on Sunday to CNN’s State of the Union that “experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these emails, releasing these emails for the purpose of helping Donald Trump. I don’t think it’s coincidental that these emails are being released on the eve of our convention here,” he said. “This isn’t my assertion,” Mook said. “This is what experts are telling us.”
In a statement, the Clinton campaign repeated the accusation: “This is further evidence the Russian government is trying to influence the outcome of the election.”