- REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
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 deleted 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, the 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 the Watergate building.
“This is really no different than going on live TV calling on people to break into Watergate,” Arora said. “It’s pretty unprecedented … He’s literally calling openly for what I call political assassination.”
Trump started the firestorm with what on its face was 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 emails that are missing,” Trump said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That’ll be nice.”
Trump was referring to emails that Clinton, who is poised to accept the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night, says she deleted from her private email server because they were personal in nature. She had been investigated by the FBI for using the private server while serving as secretary of state; the FBI found no criminal wrongdoing.
Trump attempted to quell the reaction to his comments Thursday morning by saying they were “sarcastic,” but he was still roundly criticized for making what some saw as a reckless remark.
“What Trump is calling for is basically for [the Russian] 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.”
Arora explained the potential repurcussions of Russia hacking US politicians.
“There’s strategic cyber warfare happening right now,” he said. “[I]magine if they do have Hillary’s emails, imagine if they release it a week before an election. You’re talking about a foreign government having a direct impact on the outcome of a US election.”
This, in turn, could “shape the geopolitical landscape of the next four or eight years,” Arora said.
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.”
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’s invoking Russia was a response to the Clinton campaign’s suggestion this week that Russian hackers were most likely responsible for breaching the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee earlier this year and leaking emails of top party officials to WikiLeaks for publication. While Russian hackers are suspected to have accessed both Clinton’s email server and the DNC emails, they are two separate occurrences.
Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, released a statement after Trump’s 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. “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.”