Story highlights

Leon Panetta condemns remarks Donald Trump made about Hillary Clinton

Former CIA chief responds to Trump's suggestion that Russia hack Clinton's email account

Philadelphia CNN  — 

Donald Trump went “beyond the pale” in calling on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email on Wednesday, former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview.

“That kind of statement only reflects he is truly not qualified to be president of the United States,” he said.

Panetta was responding to comments the Republican presidential nominee made earlier in the day about Russia’s potential involvement in the Democratic National Committee’s email hacking. Trump’s comments were about more than 30,000 emails missing from a private server Clinton had used while secretary of state.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said at a press conference in Florida. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Panetta, a Democrat who was President Clinton’s chief of staff before serving in President Obama’s cabinet, was aghast.

“This just is beyond my own understanding of the responsibilities that candidates have to be loyal to their country and to their country alone, not to reach out to somebody like Putin and Russia, and try to engage them in an effort to try to, in effect, conduct a conspiracy against another party.”

Panetta made the comments while attending the Democratic National Convention, where on Tuesday Clinton became the party’s nominee for President.

“You’ve got now a presidential candidate who is in fact asking the Russians to engage in American politics and I just think that’s beyond the pale,” he said. “I have a lot of concerns of his qualities of leadership or lack thereof. That kind of statement only reflects the fact that he truly is not qualified to be president of the United States.”