Democrats prepared to use their convention Wednesday night to raise fresh doubts about Donald Trump’s fitness to serve as commander in chief, as the Republican presidential candidate called on Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email server to find “missing” messages and release them to the public.
“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,” Trump said during a news conference at his South Florida resort on Wednesday.
“They probably have them. I’d like to have them released. . . . It gives me no pause. If they have them, they have them,” Trump added later when asked if his comments were inappropriate. “If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”
The Clinton campaign quickly expressed alarm at Trump’s remarks.
“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,” Clinton’s senior policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in a statement. He added later: “This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”
Trump’s comments earned another rebuke from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). His spokesman, Brendan Buck, said in a statement that “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin should stay out of this election.”
On several occasions throughout the GOP primary campaign, Ryan disavowed controversial Trump statements and withheld his endorsement for a month after the candidate had locked up the necessary delegates. Once he endorsed Trump, Ryan vowed to speak out if he felt that Trump had crossed a line.
Meanwhile, President Obama, Vice President Biden and the man who wants to succeed him, Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.), spent Wednesday morning previewing what they plan to say tonight to tout Clinton’s national security experience.
On NBC’s “Today” show, Obama sought to raise fears about a Trump presidency. Responding to a question on Trump’s electoral chances, Obama said “we don’t know” whether the Republican could win the presidency and warned Democrats that “anybody who goes into campaigns not running scared can end up losing.”
Biden delivered a blunter assessment, saying that Trump “knows nothing about foreign policy, nor should he, based upon his background. But the thing that bothers me is, I don’t see any attempt for him to go out and to get people who really know on the Republican side” to advise him, he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Trump dismissed the attacks during his news conference, calling Obama “the most ignorant president in our history. His views of the world, as he says, don’t jive, and the world is a mess.”
Trump appeared to be alluding to comments Obama made last week that disputed Republican views of a country “on the verge of collapse.”
“I think it is important, just to be absolutely clear here, that some of the fears that were expressed throughout the week just don’t jibe with the facts,” Obama said at a news conference last Friday.
Trump’s exchange with reporters on Wednesday was free-wheeling and tense. On several occasions, he interrupted reporters and accused them of bias. In one instance, he told a female reporter to “be quiet.”
The real estate mogul sought to distance himself from allegations that the Russian government hacked into the Democratic National Committee to benefit his campaign, which Clinton’s campaign manager suggested earlier this week.
“It is so farfetched. It’s so ridiculous. Honestly, I wish I had that power. I’d love to have that power, but Russia has no respect for our country,” Trump said.
Trump said repeatedly that “I have nothing to do with Russia” and distanced himself from previous positive comments he made about Putin: “I have nothing to do with Russia! I said that Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama, but who doesn’t know that?”
Earlier on Twitter, Trump called Biden “not very bright.”
In Philadelphia, Kaine spoke Wednesday morning to Virginia Democrats and focused on Trump’s rhetoric and his frequently controversial remarks about women, minorities and temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States.
“Is it too much to ask to have the first woman president rather than someone who offends women every time he opens his mouth?” he said on Wednesday morning.
Kaine, whose Marine son deployed overseas Monday, also said Trump has fought to avoid paying taxes that pay for the military — a potent message in veterans-rich Virginia.
“Who’s funding veterans’ programs?” he asked. “Who’s funding veterans’ services? Folks like you and me, but Donald Trump’s too big to have to fund veterans, too big to have to fund our military . . . too big to have to fund the things that make us a great nation.”
“I guess that’s just for suckers to have to pay for the society we have,” he said, as the audience of friends and supporters cheered.
Kaine is expected to focus on Clinton’s national security and foreign policy plans in his prime-time address, according to a campaign official.
The topics are consistent with the theme that Clinton officials have crafted for a third night of the convention, as foreign policy and terrorism have risen to the fore in the 2016 election. Trump has seized on those issues, casting himself as the candidate more focused on keeping the country safe.
Kaine’s pick as Clinton’s running mate drew praise from many quarters, but the former Virginia governor faces a challenge in convincing some progressive groups that he will champion their issues. Longtime watchers of Virginia politics say the question during much of Kaine’s career there has actually been whether he is too liberal for their state.
But Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), who sits alongside Kaine on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the Virginian on Wednesday as “a next-level intellect.”
“There’s nobody better on that committee to distill these complicated issues into easy, digestible ways,” Murphy said in a Washington Post Live interview in Philadelphia. “I think he’s going to bring a readiness and humanity to this role. And all the press he gets about being a nice guy — it’s all true.”
Other speakers on Wednesday will include Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary and CIA director who served alongside Clinton during Obama’s first term, most notably during the military operation that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, plans to endorse Clinton during Wednesday evening’s proceedings amid concerns about Trump’s fitness for the presidency.
Relatives of the victims of the recent Orlando nightclub shooting will also appear on Wednesday night, as well as the daughter of the principal of a Connecticut elementary school who was shot dead in a 2012 shooting; and astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the victim of a 2011 assassination attempt. The couple leads a gun safety organization.
The Clinton campaign meanwhile sought to tamp down fresh questions about whether the candidate intends to reverse her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership if she is elected president.
The controversy erupted on Tuesday night when Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told a reporter for Politico that Clinton, who is a longtime friend and ally, would support a version of the deal, which is supported by Obama.
But Clinton’s campaign chairman, senior aides and prominent supporters quickly corrected the governor, saying that Clinton opposes TPP before and after the election.
McAuliffe also clarified his position, blaming a misunderstanding for the gaffe. He said he believed that Clinton would oppose the deal unless her concerns were addressed.