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Donald Trump: Russia hacking comments were 'sarcastic'
01:55 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Then candidate Donald Trump was “joking” when he publicly asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday.

Trump, amid questions about what Clinton did with emails she deemed personal on her private server, called on Russia, China and other hackers to turn over the emails if they have them.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said in July 2016.

Later, Trump said at that news conference that he would “love” to see the emails, if Russia or China had them.

“That a person in our government, Katy, would delete or get rid of 33,000 emails. That gives me a big problem,” he said, getting increasingly agitated at questions from NBC’s Katy Tur. “After she gets a subpoena. She gets subpoenaed, and she gets rid of 33,000 emails. That gives me a problem. Now, if Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”

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Key members of GOP condemn Trump's Russia comments
01:48 - Source: CNN

Spicer’s comments Monday echoed what the Trump campaign said at the time about his comments.

“He was joking at the time. We all know that,” Spicer said.

The new focus on Trump’s campaign comments comes after the President sent a series of tweets Monday morning, including one that accused former President Barack Obama of colluding and obstructing.

“The reason that President Obama did NOTHING about Russia after being notified by the CIA of meddling is that he expected Clinton would win and did not want to ‘rock the boat.’ He didn’t ‘choke,’ he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good,” he tweeted.

Spicer said Monday that it was not hypocritical for Trump to accuse Obama of collusion or obstruction after he personally called for Clinton’s emails to be released.

“They had been very clear, they had been playing this card about blaming Trump and Russia,” Spicer said of the Obama administration. “They didn’t take any action, does that make them complicit? I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered about who knew what and when?”

A former Obama administration official refuted Trump’s assertions.

“This situation was taken extremely seriously, as is evident by President Obama raising this issue directly with President Putin; 17 intelligence agencies issuing an extraordinary public statement; our homeland security officials working relentlessly to bolster the cyber defenses of voting infrastructure around the country; the President directing a comprehensive intelligence review, and ultimately issuing a robust response including shutting down two Russian compounds, sanctioning nine Russian entities and individuals, and ejecting 35 Russian diplomats from the country,” the former Obama official said.

Trump’s 2016 comments inviting Russian involvement appalled some Republicans.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said: “Putin should stay out of this election.”

The Clinton campaign, at the time, accused Trump of encouraging espionage.

“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,” said Jake Sullivan, a top Clinton policy adviser, soon after Trump’s comments. “This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”

CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.