Then-candidate Donald J. Trump said he was just joking in July 2016 when he called on Russia to “find the 30,000 emails” that Hillary Clinton had not turned over to State Department investigators, ostensibly because they were personal correspondence and not government business.
Now that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has obtained indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers in connection with hacking into multiple Clinton campaign-related email accounts in the four previous months, it puts Trump’s comments in a different light.
The indictment alleges that the Russian agents broke into accounts for the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and various volunteers and employees at Clinton’s campaign — including the email account of her campaign chairman, John Podesta. It goes into some detail on how it identified the responsible parties, adding weight to the allegations.
The agents are not accused of hacking Clinton’s private email server, which isn’t surprising. Although former FBI director James Comey said in 2016 that the server could have been hacked by a hostile government, FBI investigators later told the agency’s inspector general that they were “fairly confident” the server was not compromised.
Regardless, emails taken from the DNC account started leaking in June 2016 at the site DCLeaks, then the following month from WikiLeaks. A hacker using the moniker Guccifer 2.0 — later linked by security experts to Russia — claimed credit for the leaks, but others did too, leaving the culprits unclear. Bear in mind that much of the discussion of the leaks centered on the DNC’s apparent favoritism for Clinton over her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). So while there were suspicions about Russia, the precise motives behind the leaks were hard to divine.
That’s the backdrop for Trump’s remarks. And now one has to wonder, just how much did he know about what Russia was actually doing?
In an editorial The Times ran shortly after Trump’s remarks, we noted the spin applied by Trump’s campaign:
“A spokesman for the Trump campaign later insisted that ‘Mr. Trump did not call on, or invite, Russia or anyone else to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.’ Instead, Jason Miller suggested, Trump was saying the Russians already had the data because Clinton’s server wasn’t secure.”
Or maybe Trump was saying the Russians probably had the data because he knew they’d grabbed so much else from Clinton’s campaign.
The White House responded with a statement from Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters: “Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”