President Donald Trump tweeted shortly after midnight that China had hacked Hillary Clinton's emails, without offering any evidence for the claim. The president also suggested that the FBI and the Department of Justice should investigate, adding that "their credibility will be forever gone" if they don't follow through.
It was a perplexing statement, and China responded shortly afterward with a firm denial.
“We are firmly opposed to all forms of cyberattacks and espionage,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing Wednesday, adding that China is a leading defender of cybersecurity.
Others criticized the president for what they say is just another in his long line of deflections against Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his probe into Russia's subversion of the 2016 presidential election. The president was, among other things, accused of attempting to divert attention from his warm relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whom U.S. intelligence agencies have implicated in cyber attacks against the United States.
Trump's claim plays fast and loose with the facts.
In July 2016, Trump, then a presidential candidate, invited Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, asking the Kremlin to find “the 30,000 emails that are missing” from the personal server she used during her tenure as Secretary of State.
“I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the Republican nominee said at a news conference in Florida. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Trump’s remarks shocked the Clinton campaign––to say nothing of the world––and many perceived them as a potential threat to national security. Trump, as he does with most criticism, shrugged off these concerns. He made the request of the Russians on July 27, 2016.
And on that same day, according to an indictment that the Justice Department released last month, the Russians took Trump up on his offer.
The indictment details that “on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.”
The news was the confirmation many had waited for and caused some political commentators and members of the media to call out their colleagues for spending so much time focusing on the stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails rather than the specter of Russian collusion which lingered over the country even before the 2016 presidential election was in full swing.
Although the president did not comment on the indictment, former Deputy Secretary of State and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte argued that its release could have waited until after Trump’s face to face meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
“It could have just as well waited until the president had left Europe. So it raised my eyebrow. I don’t know what the mitigating circumstances are,” Negroponte told Hill.TV’s Krystal Ball on “Rising.”
The Helsinki meeting was widely criticized, particularly after Trump sided with Putin over assessments from the United States intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it should be,” Trump responded after he was asked if he concurred with the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian operatives launched unprecedented cyber attacks on the democratic process.
The scandal prompted many to intensify their calls for impeachment, and even some top Republicans said the president's deportment was indefensible. Trump later walked back his assertion, claiming he'd misspoken, before retracting his statement and then retracting that statementonce more. His attacks on Mueller's probe have increased significantly in the week since his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen implicated him in a federal crime.
Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts––five charges of felony tax evasion, two counts of campaign finance violations, and one count of bank fraud––last week, saying he'd made payments to silence two women who said they'd had affairs with Trump to influence the election outcome and that he'd done so at Trump's behest.