WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, said Tuesday that the FBI is investigating a "criminal hack" of his private email account, which he blamed on Russia and suggested that the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump could have known what was coming.
"I've been involved in politics for nearly five decades, and this definitely is the first campaign that I've been involved with in which I've had to tangle with Russian intelligence agencies, who seem to be doing everything they can on behalf of our opponent," Podesta told reporters aboard the Democratic nominee's plane as it returned here from campaign stops in Florida.
Podesta, a longtime Clinton family confidant and aide, said that he spoke with the FBI on Sunday and that he had been told Tuesday that the intrusion into his email is now part of a wider inquiry into potential Russian cyberattacks. He would not confirm the authenticity of emails released in recent days by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks that appear to be from his Gmail account.
"Russian interference in this election and apparently on behalf of Trump is, I think, of the utmost concern to all Americans, whether you’re a Democrat or independent or Republican," Podesta said.
Podesta said that it would be "reasonable" to assume that the Trump campaign knew that WikiLeaks would release his email. He pointed to comments earlier this year by Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate and former adviser to the campaign, that he had been in contact with Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.
“Around the same time, Stone pointed his finger at me, and said that I could expect some treatment that would expose me," Podesta said, referring to comments on Twitter in August by Stone, who said it would soon be "Podesta's time in the barrel."
“So I think it’s a reasonable assumption to — or at least a reasonable conclusion — that Mr. Stone had advanced warning and the Trump campaign had advanced warning about what Assange was going to do," Podesta told reporters.
Some of the emails published so far are, if authentic, embarrassing glimpses into the inner workings of the Democratic presidential nominee's political network. They include sniping and drama among aides and Clinton's daughter, Chelsea Clinton, and a suggestion that Clinton ally Donna Brazile, who is now the interim head of the Democratic National Committee, had improperly tipped Clinton to a question she would get at a CNN forum. Brazile denied any impropriety Tuesday.
Trump seized on the leaked emails during a campaign appearance Tuesday night in Panama City, Fla., saying they are evidence that Clinton is "the vessel for a corrupt global establishment that is raiding our country and surrendering our sovereignty."
Podesta and Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri spoke to reporters after Clinton's campaign appearance in Miami on Tuesday with former vice president Al Gore.
Podesta pointed to ties to Russia among Trump advisers, including Stone, and suggested there is a concerted effort to use Russian intelligence, surveillance or computer-hacking abilities to disrupt the U.S. election.
"Why would there be this active engagement by the Russians in the DNC and other Democratic organizations, [and] into my private email account? Well, I think you could start by looking at the positions that Mr. Trump has taken during the course of this campaign," Podesta said. "Ones that are more consistent with Russian foreign policy than with U.S. foreign policy."
He cited Trump's suggestion that he would not necessarily abide by the mutual defense clause of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which obligates military action on behalf of one member by the others. It is a foundation of the military alliance and probably the element that Russia most opposes.
Podesta also cited Trump's "excuse, and really lack of knowledge, about the Russian involvement and invasion of Ukraine, the illegal annexation of Crimea," and "his apparent love affair, bromance as I’ve called it, with Vladimir Putin," the president of Russia.
Podesta speculated that the timing of the first WikiLeaks release Friday was intended to detract attention from the emergence earlier in the day of a 2005 video, first reported by The Washington Post, that captured Trump making extremely lewd comments about women. Trump’s comments came as he was riding on a bus for a segment on the show “Access Hollywood.”
“Within minutes of the 'Access Hollywood' tapes coming out, they decided that they were accountable for trying to take all the public’s attention off the things that Donald Trump said on that video,” Podesta said.