Donald Trump's invitation to Russian spies to find lost emails routed through Hillary Clinton's notorious private server was "irresponsible" and clearly underscores that "he cannot become our commander in chief," former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta said on Wednesday.
"Think about that, Donald Trump, who wants to be president, is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States of America to affect an election," Panetta told the Democratic National Convention.
"As someone who was responsible for protecting our nation from cyberattacks, it's inconceivable that any presidential candidate would be that irresponsible," he said, adding that it was "no time to roll the dice" on Trump and national security.
Earlier in the day, Trump, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, asserted in Florida, that he would like the Moscow government to obtain emails said to be missing when Clinton gave the FBI data from the private server installed in the basement of her New York home that she used while secretary of state from 2009-13.
"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press." FBI Director James E. Comey said earlier this month that by routing classified information through her personal server, Clinton and her aides were careless. He could not rule out the possibility that a hostile power hacked the account.
The email scandal prompted Republican calls to prosecute Clinton, something the Justice Department has declined to do. After that, Comey's disclosure has fed the GOP narrative — embraced by many Americans, according to polls — that Clinton is untrustworthy and that lost emails hold more embarrassments for her.
Earlier, Democratic critics and commentators at several news outlets described Trump's remarks at the Florida news conference as treasonous. Some top Republicans scrambled to downplay them as #treasonousTrump trended on Twitter.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Armed Services Committee ranking member, said Trump's comments were "totally irresponsible."
"Asking a foreign nation to interfere with the private security of the United States is irresponsible and reckless," he said.
He did not describe Trump's remarks as treasonous.
"This is more a reflection of incapacity to work with security issues and to deal with them in a constructive way," Reed said. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), called Trump's remarks "outrageous."
"Donald Trump says Putin is a great leader," Stabenow said. "It’s time for [House Speaker] Paul Ryan to admit that Donald Trump is not fit to be commander in chief.”
The New York Times tweeted that Trump's comments "essentially sanction a foreign power's cyberspying."
"How exactly would we distinguish Trump's latest comments from treason," The Atlantic's James Fallows wrote.
"This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue," Clinton senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
Donald Trump’s comments essentially sanction a foreign power's cyberspying https://t.co/UUuaBt4FVB— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 27, 2016
I know I keep saying this, but: Trump has just done something *never* seen before in politics. In a bad way https://t.co/r5KGmm9DsL by me — James Fallows (@JamesFallows) July 27, 2016
At the Philadelphia convention, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he was unsure if Trump's comments fit the description of treason, but he said the remarks were "devastating" for the real estate mogul and "could be lethal to his campaign."
Separately, American intelligence agencies said this week they had "high confidence " that Russia stole emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, the only question was whether the Kremlin had engineered their release last week by Wikileaks in order to influence the election.
The emails revealed criticism by DNC staffers of Bernie Sanders' campaign, bolstering his contention that the national committee, in violation of its policy of neutrality, favored Clinton in the Democratic primaries. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned over the scandal.
Newt Gingrich was among prominent conservatives who played down Trump's comments.
"The media seems more upset by Trump's joke about Russian hacking than by the fact that Hillary's personal server was vulnerable to Russia," Gingrich tweeted.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who campaigned against Trump during the Republican presidential primaries, went after both candidates.
@hillaryclinton put our security at risk, but Putin is not our friend; foreign meddling in US elections cannot be tolerated.
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) July 27, 2016
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who reluctantly endorsed Trump in June, tried to distance himself from his comments on Russia.
“Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug," Ryan's chief communications adviser Brendan Buck told The Guardian . "Putin should stay out of this election.”
Bridget Bowman and Alex Gangitano contributed to this report.