On a full day of meetings Friday at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, President Trump fired off one of his more curious tweets of late: a claim that “everyone” there was talking about the role of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman, in last year’s Russian email hacking scandal.
“Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!” Trump wrote, apparently referring erroneously to a Democratic National Committee server that contained emails that were hacked and made public.
Podesta, who was taking a cross-country car trip with his wife Friday, said he discovered during a pit stop in West Virginia that the president was tweeting about him. He fired back in kind on Twitter, calling Trump “our whack job POTUS” and telling him to “get a grip man.”
Trump’s tweet followed several others Friday in which he recounted meetings with world leaders at the G-20 summit, and it came just hours before he was scheduled to sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who U.S. intelligence officials have said directed his country’s meddling in last year’s election between Trump and Clinton.
Trump’s tweet conflated two parts of the email scandal. Email hacked from the DNC server surfaced last July, while hacked email from Podesta’s personal account was published later in the year by WikiLeaks.
Podesta did not hold a position at the DNC, and he was not in a position to assert control over its email sever. By all accounts, Podesta cooperated fully with the FBI and other law enforcement officials in relation to the hacking of his personal email.
It was not clear to whom Trump was referring when he said “everyone” at the G-20 summit was talking about Podesta and his alleged actions. Several White House officials did not respond Friday to questions about whom Trump was talking about besides himself.
Podesta, who previously served in the White Houses of Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, fired off seven tweets Friday, including one that offered this advice for Trump: “Dude, get your head in the game. You’re representing the US at the G20.”
Later in the day, upon reaching Kentucky, Podesta submitted an op-ed to The Washington Post in which he wrote: “I had nothing to do with the Democratic National Committee. . . . So there was no DNC server for me to refuse to give and I was never asked for one.”
He also noted that “the CIA has no role in domestic intelligence-gathering — in fact, it’s prohibited. The CIA would never ask anyone at the DNC for a server.”
Shortly after his tweet about Podesta, Trump posted another saying: “I look forward to all meetings today with world leaders, including my meeting with Vladimir Putin. Much to discuss.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who took part in that meeting with Putin, told reporters afterward that Trump at the start “pressed” the Russian president about the charges of election meddling, which Tillerson said Putin denied.
As recently as Thursday, Trump declined to say definitively that Russia had meddled in last year’s elections — a conclusion reached by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies.
“I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries,” Trump said at a joint news conference in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda. “. . . Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”
Trump also repeated his contention that Obama, his predecessor, did not do enough to respond to the findings of Russian hacking during his tenure.
Later Friday, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was among those who appeared incredulous about Trump’s contention regarding Podesta.
“Yes, I’m sure that’s the big talk at G20,” Schiff wrote on Twitter. “Not climate change or trade, but why didn’t John Podesta give a server that wasn’t his to the CIA.”