An agitated and seemingly out-of-breath Donald Trump appeared at one of his resort properties in Florida Wednesday morning and spoke to the media for nearly an hour on a wide range of topics, from controversy about his refusal to release his tax returns to his most recent poll numbers.
But the issue that seemed to animate the Republican presidential nominee the most was the suggestion the recent hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email server and the subsequent release of nearly 20,000 emails through WikiLeaks was possibly orchestrated by the Russian government in order to help the Trump campaign -- or at least to harm Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I have nothing to do with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia,” he repeated at one point. At another he insisted that he doesn’t know anything about Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite having repeatedly praised the Russian strongman’s leadership qualities, defended his repressive tactics, and pledged that relations between the US and Russia would be much better under a Trump administration.
“President Trump would be so much better for US-Russian relations,” he said at one point. It can’t be worse.”
(Trump’s “relationship” with Putin is odd, to say the least. During a primary debate last November, he bragged that he “got to know [Putin] very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates.” It later came out that, while both appeared on the show in pre-recorded interviews, the two men were never on the same continent while preparing for the show, much less in the same room.)
Despite very strong evidence to the contrary, Trump repeatedly insisted that Russia probably had nothing to do with the hacking of the DNC servers. However, at one point he suggested -- presumably in jest -- that Russian hackers might be able to release emails that Clinton erased from the private email server that she used -- against State Department regulations -- while serving as secretary of state.
“By the way, if they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails -- I hope they do -- they probably have the 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted because you’d see some beauties there,” he said.
Later, he added, “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.”
That last comment caused a huge uproar in the press and foreign policy establishment, despite the very strong possibility that Trump thought he was being funny.
"I find those kinds of statements to be totally outrageous,” said former CIA director Leon Panetta, who claimed Trump was “in fact asking the Russians to engage in American politics.”
Panetta added, “I just think that’s behind the pale. There’s a lot of concerns I have with his qualities of leadership or lack thereof and I think that kind of statement only reflects the fact that he truly is not qualified to be president of the United States. "
Trump, who has made multiple well-documented efforts to do business in Russia, nevertheless insisted that the “closest he came” to Russia was selling a house in Florida to a Russian citizen.
The billionaire former reality television star repeatedly insisted that the real problem with a foreign power hacking into the email systems of a US political party is that, “It shows how weak we are. It shows how disrespected we are...It’s a total sign of disrespect for our country.”
His position appears to be that once he is president, other countries will have so much respect for the US that espionage will be a thing of the past.
In a note of discord, the Trump campaign released a statement from vice presidential nominee Mike Pence that appeared to take a different stance on both the likelihood of Russia’s being responsible for the attack and on potential consequences.
“The FBI will get to the bottom of who is behind the hacking,” the statement 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.”
Trump, who appeared to calm down somewhat as the press conference went on, also took time to contradict a statement made by his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, earlier Wednesday morning. Manafort, in an interview with CBS, had appeared to close the door on the possibility of Trump ever releasing his tax returns to the public, as all presidential candidates have done for decades.
Trump reverted to the dodge he has been using for the past year -- that he cannot release the returns because he is under audit and that he will do so when the audit is complete.
Among other things, Trump also attacked President Obama. Among other things, he called the Columbia- and Harvard-educated lawyer and former professor of constitutional law the “most ignorant” president in the country’s history.