Donald Trump: 'I was being sarcastic when I told Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's email'
The Republican candidate has been accused of treason over the remarks
Having been accused of treason after urging Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, Donald Trump has now claimed he was only making a joke.
The day after he stared into television cameras and said “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the Republican presidential candidate said he was being sarcastic.
“Of course I was being sarcastic,” Mr Trump told Fox News. “And frankly, they don't even know if it's Russia, if it's China, if it’s someone else. Who knows who it is.”
The attempt by Mr Trump to deny that he was being serious came after he was engulfed in a barrage of criticism for appearing to urge Russia to intervene in the US election. His vice-presidential running mate and the leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives were among those who sought to distance themselves from his comments.
After Mr Trump spoke to reporters in Miami, a succession of speakers at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia criticised his comments and said they were unprecedented from a US presidential candidate. Former CIA Director Leon Panetta said Mr Trump’s remarks called into question his loyalty to the US.
The controversy relates to the hacking of emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), 20,000 of which were published last week by Wikileaks, and which exposed a plot by Democratic officials to try and smear Bernie Sanders. The furore, on the eve of the Democratic convention, resulted in the resignation of the DNC chairperson.
Over the weekend, US media reported that the intelligence community believed that Russia was behind the hack. Ms Clinton’s spokesman said he believed that Mr Trump was somehow involved in the effort to smear the Democrats.
Mr Trump has previously spoken favourably of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, but both the Russian president and the New York tycoon have denied any involvement in the hacking of the DNC emails, or their release to Wikileaks
On Wednesday, the row took a even stranger twist when Mr Trump appeared to call on Mr Putin to dig deeper into Mr Clinton’s emails. He also implied that the Russian leader used the N-word when referring to President Barack Obama.
Asked whether he was concerned that he was urging a foreign nation to hack US political party, he said: “If it’s any foreign country it shows how little respect they have for the United States.”
Russia has denied that it is behind the email hacking or that it is trying to interfere with the US election. It said the allegations were nothing more than “horror stories”.
“Moscow is at pains to avoid any words that could be interpreted as direct or indirect interference in the election process,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call, according to Reuters.
Ms Clinton came under investigation for her use of a personal email server while serving as secretary of state. After turning over all correspondence about government business during her tenure at the department to the FBI, Ms Clinton revealed at a press conference last year that she had deleted about half of her emails that pertained to personal matters.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch ultimately decided not to pursue criminal charges against Ms Clinton.
Ms Clinton’s senior policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Wednesday that Mr Trump’s action were unprecedented. “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," he said.
“That’s not hyperbole. Those are just the facts. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity and a matter of politics to being a national security issue.”