Election 2016

Incensed by Spotlight on Hillary, Trump Vies for Attention With Act of Near-Treason

The Republican standard-bearer invited Russian spies to hack State Department email, and said he hopes Putin likes him.

Photo Credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

PHILADELPHIA—If there’s anything Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, can’t stand, it’s when the national media momentarily turns its attention from him—like, say, when the first woman in the history of the republic is about to claim the presidential nomination of one of the country’s two major political parties. Knowing it would take something huge, something tremendous, to draw some spotlight at this historic moment, Trump opted to walk up to the line of treason, inviting Russian president Vladimir Putin to turn his country’s spies on an email server used by his Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to communicate with State Department officials. 

In a press conference staged at his resort in Doral, Florida, Trump conflated the hack of Democratic National Committee email, which experts believe to have been executed by Russian agencies, with the right’s furor over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct official government business during her tenure as secretary of state. The hack of the Democratic Party’s email, which led to the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, resulted in the release of the messages by WikiLeaks as Democrats gathered here for their national convention. 

As for Clinton’s use of her personal server to conduct State Department business, in the course of handing over the contents of that server to investigators, Clinton deleted some 30,000 emails she said were personal, and turned over an equal number that referenced State Department business. 

“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 told reporters. 

An FBI investigation concluded last month, clearing Clinton of wrongdoing—though FBI Director James Comey questioned her judgment in choosing to use the private server.

Trump knew his comments would cause a furor, and once they had, he refused to back off. Later in the press conference, when asked if his comments were appropriate, given their potential impact on national security, Trump replied: “It gives me no pause; if they have them, they have them… If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”

And with that, he accomplished two things: a massive media hit, and one that puts the question of Clinton’s email problem back in the national discussion as she prepares to accept her party’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention, which is currently underway here.

And he baited the Clinton campaign into responding to him during the convention, traditionally a time in which opponents in the presidential campaign do not engage with each other.

As if that weren’t enough, Trump made racially-tinged remarks about President Barack Obama, calling him “the most ignorant president in history,” and claiming that Putin had used “the N-word” when talking about Obama, because the Russian strongman does not respect the U.S. president. He then suggested that Putin would react differently to a Trump presidency: “I think he’s going to respect your president if I’m elected—and I hope he likes me,” Trump said.

Trump’s populist campaign is geared toward a particular demographic: Disaffected white men who do not have college degrees. In demeaning Obama for his race, and Clinton on the eve of her breaking a barrier maintained by men for two and a half centuries, Trump is proving there’s no strategy too low-minded for achieving his aims—even if, by inviting a foreign government to snoop on the U.S., it borders on treason.

Perhaps in the hope of having a future in politics should Trump not succeed in his White House bid, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, issued a statement contradicting Trump’s invitation. If Russia was found to be interfering in the U.S. political process, said Pence, there would be “serious consequences.”

Watch Trump's news conference below:

Adele M. Stan is a weekly columnist for The American Prospect. Follow her on Twitter @addiestan.

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