Donald Trump claimed he was being "sarcastic" after he urged Russia to find Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's missing emails. The Republican presidential nominee sparked furore yesterday (27 July) after seemingly calling on a foreign rival to "commit espionage in the US."
"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said at a Florida news conference. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."
The GOP nominee made the controversial remarks following claims that Moscow is meddling in the US elections. Russia is suspected of being behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's servers, which led to thousands of emails being leaked before the Philadelphia convention.
Following an intense backlash from much of the US' national security community, Trump attempted to walk back on his incendiary comments, claiming they were not meant to be taken so literally. "Of course I'm being sarcastic," Trump said in an interview with Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade on 28 July.
"But you have 33,000 emails deleted, and the real problem is what was said on those emails from the Democratic National Committee. You take a look at what was said on those emails, it's disgraceful," he added.
Trump's sarcasm claim was flatly rejected by Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid. "He's being dumb," Reid told CNN at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. "Donald Trump can't control his mouth, can't control his brain. He's proven that time after time."
Reid also called on the US intelligence officials not to share important information with Trump during classified briefings. "How would the CIA and the other intelligence agencies brief this guy? How could they do that? I would suggest to the intelligence agencies, if you're forced to brief this guy, don't tell him anything, just fake it, because this man is dangerous," Reid told the Huffington Post.
"Fake it, pretend you're doing a briefing, but you can't give the guy any information," added Reid.
Trump's initial comments were swiftly denounced by Clinton's campaign, who accused him of entering into unchartered territory. "This is a national security issue now and the idea that you'd have any American calling for a foreign power to commit espionage in the US for the purpose of somehow changing an election, I think, that we're now in a national security space," said Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook.
Speaker after speaker at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last night took a swipe at Trump's suitability for the top job. "Donald Trump says he gets his foreign policy experience from watching TV and running the Miss Universe pageant. If only it were funny. It is deadly serious," said former CIA Director Leon Panetta.
"Donald Trump is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States to affect our election."
Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, leapt to the billionaire's defence after his attempts to clarify the comments. "They've taken a sarcastic comment, suggested that he was encouraging that activity all the while ignoring the extraordinary revelations in these emails of collusion of horrible statements regarding race, ethnicity and religion," the Indiana governor said.
Trump also went on the defensive when asked about past comments praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. "When you look at Vladimir Putin, you say he's a great leader for his country," Kilmeade began.
Trump interjected: "No, I didn't say that. I said he's a better leader than Obama." He added: "I said he's a better leader than Obama. Because Obama is not a leader. So he's certainly doing a better job than Obama is. And that's all."