Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Thursday attempted to walk back some of his remarks at a Wednesday morning press briefing during the Democratic National Convention, saying they weren’t meant to be taken seriously.
Among other things, Trump suggested that Russian intelligence services should look for more than 30,000 deleted emails belonging to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and reveal them to the world.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’ll be able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Trump made the astounding comments in response to the Clinton campaign’s charges that Russian hackers, working in conjunction with Russian intelligence agencies, orchestrated the leak of nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails, and that they timed their release to help the Trump presidential campaign.
Security experts, Democratic officials and some members of Trump’s own party were among those who blasted his Wednesday remarks. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., put out a statement calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “thug” and warning that Russia should “stay out of this election.”
Facing a fierce backlash, with some officials questioning whether he had financial motivations to cozy up to the Russian government, Trump told Fox News that he was being sarcastic and did not intend that his comments be taken literally.
Trump officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Yuri Melnik, press secretary for the Russian Embassy to the U.S., declined to comment on any of the specific comments by Trump or anyone else, and said he had no knowledge of Trump’s business activities in Russia or elsewhere.
“In general, I believe that the Russia-related allegations floating around are completely inadequate and inappropriate,” Melnik told TechNewsWorld. “It’s surprising how childish the narrative is.”
U.S. privacy and civil liberties advocates blasted Trump’s statements, given the nature of the cybersecurity breaches that have impacted the government and private sector in recent years.
“At a time when the U.S. is confronting serious cybersecurity threats from foreign adversaries, the comments of the Republican candidate for President are beyond reckless,” Electronic Privacy Information Center President Marc Rotenberg told TechNewsWorld.
Not Quite Deleted
The potential breach of even nonclassified email belonging to the former Secretary of State constitutes a serious security risk, said Kevin O’Brien, CEO of GreatHorn.
A string of recent security breaches, including the 2015 hack of the Office of Personnel Management and more recent attacks, up to the DNC breach in May, likely were the work of Russian cyberthieves, he told TechNewsWorld.
On the issue of the thousands of Clinton’s deleted emails, that information trail in the age of cloud computing is not necessarily safe from rediscovery, O’Brien added.
“Whether it’s removed from the recipient’s systems and servers has no impact on that data’s continued existence in the myriad systems that it moved through prior to arrival, or was copied to if those systems were themselves compromised,” he explained.
The deleted emails could have been vulnerable to “direct endpoint compromise,” which means the server might have been infected with malware that made shadow copies of the deleted emails, or that third-party applications that ran in conjunction with the email transfer agent and server software may have been compromised. The extended perimeter of any individual who received messages in any of those threads also may have been compromised.
The FBI earlier this week launched an investigation into whether the Russians were involved in the DNC hack.
Cybersecurity experts at CrowdStrike last month published evidence linking Russian hackers operating under the names “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear” to the DNC breach. The groups have been tied to a series of infiltrations of U.S. government agencies and other American entities.
A spokesperson at the FBI did not comment specifically in response to Trump’s comments, but pointed to an extensive statement FBI Director James Comey released about Clinton’s use of a personal email server.
The agency “did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal email domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked,” he said.
However, Comey did make an interesting reference to the potential for cyberthieves to access Clinton’s emails through a back door: “We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account.”
Clinton used her personal email “extensively” while traveling outside of the U.S., including sending and receiving emails “in the territory of sophisticated adversaries,” he pointed out.
“Given that combination of factors,” said Comey, “we assess that it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”