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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday tried to quell the furor over his call to Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails by saying he was being sarcastic.

The New York businessman on Wednesday invited Russia to dig up tens of thousands of “missing” emails from Clinton’s time at the U.S. State Department, prompting Democrats to accuse him of urging foreigners to spy on Americans.

“Of course I’m being sarcastic,” Trump said in an interview broadcast Thursday on Fox News.

“But you have 33,000 emails (by Clinon) deleted, and the real problem is what was said on those emails from the Democratic National Committee,” he said, referring to hacked emails released last weekend by WikiLeaks.

“You take a look at what was said on those emails, it’s disgraceful. It’s disgraceful,” Trump said.

The DNC emails showed party leaders favoring Clinton over her rival in the campaign for the nomination, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The committee is supposed to be neutral.

Trump‘s explanation echoed those of his campaign advisers and other supporters, who immediately tried to pass his comments off as tongue-in-cheek and not serious.

But the exhortation for a U.S. adversary to use cyber intrusions against an American political candidate drew criticism from intelligence experts and other public figures, including some Republicans.

Trump made the remark at a news conference in Miami that allowed him to steal some of the limelight from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where Clinton on Thursday will accept her party’s presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,”Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, told reporters.

He later said on Twitter that if anyone had Clinton’s emails, “perhaps they should share them with the FBI!”

The Republican presidential nominee was referring to a private email system Clinton kept in her home in Chappaqua, New York, while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. She handed over thousands of emails in 2015 to U.S. officials probing that system, but did not release about 30,000 deleted emails she said were personal and not work-related.

 

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Colorado, U.S., July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

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