Donald Trump just walked into another political and foreign policy minefield of his own making.
Trump said Wednesday that he hopes a country that just happens to be one of the United States' most antagonistic fellow world powers — Russia — has or would obtain unreleased emails from Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state.
"They probably have her 33,000 emails, too. I hope they do," he said, adding later: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."
There are many, many potential problems with this scenario — and not just for Clinton's campaign, but also for U.S. national security. Indeed, the logical extension of his comments is that a foreign power would be deciding how to handle possibly sensitive information about a potential U.S. president.
And none other than Trump himself has suggested this kind of information could be used to "blackmail" Clinton.
First, a little background: Trump here is referring to approximately half of more than 60,000 emails on the private server that Clinton used as secretary of state and that were deleted because they were deemed "personal" and not turned over to State Department investigators. Republicans have cried foul over their deletion.
Trump seemed to imply later Wednesday, in a tweet, that he simply wanted the emails to be turned over to the FBI, no matter who might obtain them.
If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton's 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2016
But Trump's comments earlier Wednesday suggested Russia might hand the emails over to the news media, as WikiLeaks did with hacked Democratic National Committee emails last week. As it did with the committee, that could cause major problems — except this time for a former top U.S. diplomat who could soon be president.
And he has said previously in this campaign, without any evidence, that enemies of the United States "almost certainly" have accessed Clinton's emails and are using them to blackmail her. So he's clearly aware of that possibility.
FBI Director James B. Comey said in rebuking Clinton's use of the email server earlier this month that it's indeed possible the server had been accessed — but that there was no evidence yet that it had happened.
"Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal email account," he said.
Trump's aim here seems to be highlighting that Clinton deleted her emails, full stop. If Russia can find them, after all, maybe they will come to light, he seems to suggest.
But that scenario could also very plausibly lend itself to the kind of cyberespionage — blackmail or otherwise — that Trump has already alleged Clinton is being subjected to.
The emails were deemed personal and should not contain classified information. Yes, but many work-related emails Clinton said did not contain classified information were later proven by the FBI to have contained some. And even if the information is all personal in nature, that could be used against Clinton, too.
Trump literally just invited ad encouraged Russia to commit cyberespionage on his political rival
— Simon Maloy (@SimonMaloy) July 27, 2016
How is calling for a cyberattack from a foreign power anything but treasonous?
— Douglas Heye (@DougHeye) July 27, 2016
Trump, of course, has gone far outside the mainstream on foreign policy before. He has basically said he might unilaterally pull the United States out of its obligation to defend other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) when they are attacked, if they don't foot more of the bill for the organization.
"We’re talking about countries that are doing very well," he told the New York Times last week. "Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, 'Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.'"
The comment earned stern rebukes from all sides of the U.S. foreign-policy debate and foreign leaders. The message it sends to allies, experts said, is that the United States can't be trusted to honor its foreign commitments — which would be a major problem for the United States' standing in the world and for maintaining and building relationships with allies.
So Trump is clearly not abiding by the standard protocol of U.S. officials who talk carefully about foreign policy.
But Wednesday's comments ratchet things up even more. Even as he contended that he's not the preferred candidate of Russia — as Democrats have alleged and Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested — he's now hoping Russia has potentially damaging information about a possible U.S. president.
That's stunning. And while Trump did not say he wants Russia to use those emails for blackmail or espionage purposes, his previous comments make clear it's a possibility he's very well aware of.
This post has been updated.