Clinton Campaign Says Trump Is Encouraging 'Espionage' After Hacking Comment

Jul 27, 2016
Originally published on July 27, 2016 6:53 pm

Donald Trump on Wednesday called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's email and recover messages from her tenure as secretary of state. His comments followed reports that U.S. officials believe Russian hackers stole emails from the Democratic National Committee and arranged for their release.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

At a press conference today, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had a message for Russia.

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DONALD TRUMP: 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.

MCEVERS: Those emails he was talking about belong to Hillary Clinton, and his comments have been widely interpreted as an invitation to a foreign power to spy on his political opponent. Here with us to talk about this is NPR's national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Hello.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hello.

MCEVERS: So Trump's comments come of course as Russia stands accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee's computer servers and already leaking thousands of emails. Does that mean this seriously, or is he joking?

KELLY: Well, as you mentioned, this came at a news conference, so reporters there asked exactly that. Did you mean this?

MCEVERS: Yeah.

KELLY: Are you urging a foreign state to hack into the private email server of Hillary Clinton, a presidential candidate also a former secretary of state. Trump brushed off the question and said that's up to the president - the current president. And later he tweeted out, if Russia or anybody has Clinton's emails, they should share them with the FBI.

One other piece of news from that press conference worth sharing, Kelly - and that is Trump was asked if he would consider recognizing Crimea as part of Russia, if he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia. He said, quote, "we'll be looking at that." Now, that would mark a major change from U.S. policy today, so this is raising a lot of eyebrows in foreign policy circles.

MCEVERS: What has been the reaction from Clinton's people about these comments about these emails?

KELLY: Well, they are outraged as you would imagine. Clinton's foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, immediately emailed reporters, saying this has got to be the first time that a major party presidential candidate has encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent. He added - and I'm quoting here - "this has gone from being a matter of curiosity, a matter of politics to being a national security issue."

So there has been a lot of reaction on this today, including this from former CIA director, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He went on CNN and said Trump's remark goes beyond the pale.

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LEON PANETTA: That kind of statement only reflects the fact that he truly is not qualified to be president of the United States.

MCEVERS: As presidential nominees, both Clinton and Trump are preparing to start receiving classified intelligence briefings. Will those go ahead?

KELLY: The short answer is yes. I spoke to an intelligence official today familiar with the briefings. That official said the director of national intelligence, the DNI, does not wade into political waters. So yes, the briefings will continue regardless of the news of the day. They'll start after both of these conventions have wrapped up.

And the official said, remember; the guiding principle here is parity. The nominees will be offered the exact same briefings, the same information. But listen; operational policy matters are not discussed. These are more broad, strategic outlook briefings, and they're not daily briefings. They'll be limited in number. Now, that is all par for the course, the way it always unfolds.

Here's something interesting. For the first time today, as I was calling around, I was hearing from people inside the intelligence community questioning whether briefing both candidates is the right thing to do.

MCEVERS: Why? Why would they be questioning that?

KELLY: Well, I spoke to one former senior intelligence official who I should add has run presidential briefings. This official said what Trump is saying amounts basically to telling the U.S. No. 1 intelligence adversary in the world to spy on America. This official said - and I'm quoting - "I wonder if we reach a point where we say this is crazy; we're not briefing this guy."

I mean that is interesting. Intelligence officials are usually at pains to stay above the fray, to stress that they don't play politics. I have not heard these kind of questions bubble up before. I think this is going to get interesting.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Thank you very much.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.