Trump encourages Russian hackers to release Clinton emails

Republican candidate's comments called inappropriate and possibly illegal. He rides even higher in the polls.

Donald Trump has taken a typically brash approach to allegations he is too close to Russia (where the four-times bankrupt, now shunned by major US banks, has found investors, and where two of his campaign staff have worked for controversial figures).

Instead of tip-toeing away from controversy over Russian intelligence agencies (apparently) stealing emails from the Democratic National Committee then releasing them to Wikileaks, the Republican candidate has doubled down — encouraging the US' old Cold War adversary to go after emails Hillary Clinton sent from a private server while Secretary of State, which she allegedly then deleted.*

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr Trump said during a press conference if Florida.

“I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

There was immediate outrage in some quarters.

“Basically what we have here is a presidential nominee inviting a foreign agency to hack his opponent,” Thomas Rid, a professor in security studies at King’s College of London told Wired.

The New York Times took a similar tack, saying Mr Trump was "essentially encouraging an adversarial foreign power’s cyberspying on a Secretary of State’s correspondence."saying Mr Trump was "essentially encouraging an adversarial foreign power’s cyberspying on a secretary of state’s correspondence."

'Devious thug'
Speaker Paul Ryan — the highest-ranked elected Republican — responded to a request for comment by saying, "Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.”

Diverting attention
Auckland-based international security expert Paul Buchanan says, "I think Mr Trump was, as usual, talking off the cuff and extemporaneously in order to divert attention away from serious questions about his relationship with Russia. He was irritated by the questioning and appears to have thrown that remark in there without thinking about its implications. In that same presser, he refused to call on Mr Putin to stop the cyber spying and again said that Mr Putin was a better leader than Obama."

Dr Buchanan adds, "This is more evidence that Mr Trump is temperamentally unsuited for the presidency. He often speaks impulsively and without considering the impact of his words. He also appears to not have any idea of the seriousness of the issue of cyber espionage. It is as if it is all a game for him, in which he just tries to score political points regardless of subject or the impact of his remarks outside of the room in which they were made."

Some saw nuance. Jeffrey Carr, a cybersecurity analyst at Taia Global, told Wired that Mr Trump's call involved Russia leaking emails it had (allegedly) already obtained, rather than engaging in a fresh hacking attack — though he added, "It’s still inappropriate and possibly illegal."

Despite Russian president Vladimir Putin offering safe harbour to the fugitive Edward Snowden, riding roughshod over business contracts and being accused of a litany of human rights and democratic process abuses, Mr Trump has described him as a "strong leader" and expressed the hope the two countries will get along better if he is elected to the White House.

Lead grows
Such comments would sink the career of many a politician. The latest poll in the US has Mr Trump seven points ahead (though uber statistician Nate Silver still has Mrs Clinton in front in his Electoral College modelling). For many in a disgruntled electorate, the more he defies convention, the better.

Democrats will be hoping to regain ground with the next round of surveys. The party's convention in Philidelphia got off to a disastrous start as the leaked DNC emails re-opened division between Clinton supporters and those of her primary challenger Senator Bernie Sanders. But it had a better day yesterday as Mr Sanders moved to suspend the rules and appoint Mrs Clinton as candidate by acclamation.

Emotional scenes followed as Mrs Clinton duly became the first female presidential nominee for a major party, and Bill Clinton delivered what most pundits describe as one of his best speeches. The Democrats regained control of the news cycle. Or at least, until The Donald let drop his latest headline-grabbing quote.

* After an investigation, the FBI found Hillary Clinton forwarded classified information in a number of the emails she sent via a private server while Secretary of State. Director James Comey said there was no intentional mishandling of information and  "no reasonable" prosecutor would mount a case. No charges were laid. Wikileaks, which over the weekend released close to 20,000 emails taken from Democratic Convention Committee servers, has already said it will push emails from Mrs Clinton's time as Secretary of State as part of its "Hillary leaks" series. 

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