“I will tell you this: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
The president was encouraging a foreign adversary to illegally hack into messages by a former secretary of state that might contain sensitive information, then release them publicly.
Trump had good reason to believe that Russia was listening. The previous month, his son, Donald Jr.; son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had a meeting at Trump Tower with Russians who they believed were offering damaging information about Clinton. (The meeting wasn’t revealed to the public until 2017, and both the Russians and the Trump campaign officials say no dirt was exchanged.) Prior to the meeting, Trump Jr. had received an email stating that the meeting was “ part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Mueller’s indictment offers new evidence that Russia was listening—and acting on Trump’s request. The indictment charges 12 officers of the GRU, Russia’s military-intelligence agency, with hacking intended to interfere with the election. According to the document:
The Conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign throughout the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators 7 attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton's personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.
In other words, a Russian attempt to penetrate Clinton’s server and her campaign came around the same time that Trump was publicly pleading with Russia to do just that. (Mueller alleges that there had been attempts to hack Clinton’s campaign since at least March 2016.)
Trump’s hacking request was so egregious that it earned immediate pushback from other Republicans. Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokesman issued a statement saying, “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.” Even Mike Pence, Trump’s own vice-presidential nominee, contradicted his running mate. “If it is Russia [that hacked the DNC] and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences,” he said.
The indictment notes other examples of Russia releasing documents at times engineered to benefit the Trump campaign, though it doesn’t offer any evidence that Trump aides directed, or were aware of, those releases before they happened. The indictment notes that WikiLeaks released a tranche of emails allegedly stolen by Russia on July 22, 2016—just three days before the DNC, a convenient stroke of timing for Trump. Then, on October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released another batch of hacked emails within hours of the revelation of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump is overheard boasting about sexually assaulting women.