Donald Trump’s Schadenfreude in the DNC’s embarrassing email leak is standard practice in America’s messy electoral politics. Today, though, his casual request that Russian hackers dig up Hillary Clinton’s emails—sent while she was U.S. Secretary of State—for his own political gain has sparked a new level of outrage among cybersecurity experts. As the controversy continues to swirl around a likely-Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee, Trump responded to a reporter’s question at a press conference Wednesday by inviting Russia to do him another favor: collect and leak the emails that Clinton deleted from the private server she ran during her time as Secretary of State. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press,” he said. He later circled back to the same theme, telling reporters that “If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.” Some have dismissed the comment as a joke, though his repetition of the request seemed sincere. Either way, Trump’s comments represent a dangerous first, according to amazed members of the cybersecurity community: A politician actively soliciting political help from foreign government hackers.
“Basically what we have here is a presidential nominee inviting a foreign agency to hack his opponent,” says Thomas Rid, a professor in security studies at King’s College of London and the author of Rise of the Machines. “It’s certainly unprecedented. And it’s irresponsible.”
To apply some nuance to candidate who typically does not engage in it, Trump may not have asked for Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, so much as to leak emails that they’d already compromised, points out Jeffrey Carr, a cybersecurity analyst at Taia Global and the author of Inside Cyber Warfare. But “it’s still inappropriate and possibly illegal,” Carr notes. “Trump reaching out to Russia and China for help in obtaining hacked emails means that he has excluded himself from any serious international discussions about cyber norms.”
The Clinton campaign was quick to echo those responses in a statement responding to to Trump: “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,” wrote Clinton campaign policy director Jake Sullivan. “This has gone from being a matter of curiosity and a matter of politics to being a matter of national security.”