Apparently, Russia was listening.
On the very same day in 2016 that Donald Trump urged Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, Russian intelligence officers launched a new attack to hack his opponent’s personal emails, according to the latest indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller.
It is maybe the most eyebrow-raising detail in an indictment filled with them. Mueller on Friday indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for crimes related to the hacking and public release of Democratic emails to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.
To be clear, the Russian hacking of people close to Clinton didn’t start on July 27, 2016, when Trump stood before the whole world and said he hoped Russia would “find the 30,000 emails that are missing … I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Emails from the Democratic National Committee had already been hacked and leaked, and we would later learn that Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s email account had already been compromised. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop has previously explained, the email phishing expeditions against Democrats were already well underway by March 2016. That’s around the time that Podesta’s emails, which would play such a prominent role in the final months of the campaign, were infiltrated.
So Trump’s comments can’t be claimed as the start of Russia’s digital attacks against American political parties and figures. But the timing is nevertheless uncanny. On July 27, Trump calls for Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails. That same day — “after hours” as the indictment notes, which strongly suggests this was after Trump’s statement — the hackers go after Clinton’s personal email.
From the indictment:
The conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton campaign through the summer of 2016. For example, 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. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.
Trump’s brazen comment urging a foreign power to hack his opponent has always been difficult to decipher. Was it typical Trumpian bluster, at a time when hacked emails and Clinton’s email server had been huge news stories? Or was there something more sinister going on?
The new Mueller indictment doesn’t provide a definitive answer. But it sure looks like when Trump asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails, Russian intelligence heard him.