Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump did not extend a treasonous invitation to Russia to hack Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, his top campaign aide said Wednesday night — he was just kidding.
Paul Manafort said on Fox News that Trump was speaking "in a sarcastic way" when he invited the Russian government to look for Clinton's "missing" emails.
Trump's invitation sparked a firestorm of criticism and was made amid speculation that the Russian government is behind the release of Democratic National Committee emails ahead of this week's convention.
Manafort tried to steer the conversation back to Clinton's use of a private email while secretary of state.
"The real problem here is the fact that she had an unsecured server sitting in her closet in her home, that could be hacked by anyone in the world," Manafort said.
FBI Director James Comey has said an investigation found no direct evidence that Clinton's personal e-mail domain was successfully hacked, but said it was unlikely investigators would see direct evidence.
He said given the combination of factors, "we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal e-mail account."
Comey said emails containing highly classified information were carelessly handled and the servers were "not even supported by full time security staff."
Trump's message to Russia gave fresh ammunition to Democrats to portray Trump as too inexperienced to be commander in chief. Former CIA director Leon Panetta told a crowd at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia Wednesday that Trump "once again took Russia's side."
"Donald Trump, who wants to be president of the United States, is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States of America to affect an election," Panetta said. "As someone who was responsible for protecting our nation from cyber attacks, it is inconceivable to me that any presidential candidate would be that irresponsible."
Manafort dismissed that characterization.
"First of all, he didn't encourage anybody to hack," Manafort. "He was making a sarcastic point about those 33,000 missing emails," Manafort added.