Donald Trump elicited a swift and strong reaction from politicians, government officials, and cybersecurity experts when at a Wednesday press conference he appeared to invite Russian hackers to find and publish Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Some were shocked at Trump’s comments, and others insisted that Russia should stay out of US elections.
“I literally almost fell out of my chair when I was watching it,”Ajay Arora, CEO of the cybersecurity firm Vera, told Business Insider. “It just kept on getting better and better, or worse and worse depending on how you look at it.”
Arora compared Trump’s comments to inviting burglars to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at Watergate.
“This is really no different than going on live-TV calling on people to break into Watergate,” Arora said. “[I]t’s pretty unprecedented. … He’s literally calling openly for what I call political assassination.”
Trump attempted to quell the firestorm Thursday morning by saying his comments were ‘sarcastic,’ but he was still roundly criticised for making what some saw as a reckless remark.
“What Trump is calling for is basically for government to go and give him the ammunition to politically assassinate his rival,” Arora said. “It’s borderline insanity. But it’s for real. You can’t even write this stuff, you can’t even make this stuff up.”
A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan also pushed back on Trump’s remarks, issuing this statement after the press conference: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.”
And Trump’s own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, released a statement after the press conference that discouraged Russian involvement in a US election.
“The FBI will get to the bottom of who is behind the hacking,” Pence said in the statement. “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.”
Trump’s campaign also sought to clarify his comments on Wednesday.
“To be clear, Mr. Trump did not call on, or invite, Russia or anyone else to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails today,” Trump campaign senior communications adviser Jason Miller tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.
He continued: “Trump was clearly saying that if Russia or others have Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, they should share them w/ FBI” immediately.
Trump started the firestorm with what some perceived as an invitation to Russian hackers to commit a felony and steal information from the US.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing,” Trump said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That will be nice.”
Trump was referring to the emails Clinton says she deleted because they were personal in nature. She has been investigated for her use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state.
Trump’s remarks came after Clinton’s camp said this week that Russian hackers were likely responsible for breaching the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee earlier this year and leaking emails of top officials to WikiLeaks for publication. While Russian hackers are suspected to have accessed both the Clinton server and the DNC emails, they are two separate occurrences.
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