Democrats bolstered their case Wednesday night that Hillary Clinton is ready to be commander in chief, and seized on Republican nominee Donald Trump’s comments that seemed to encourage Russia to use cyber-espionage against Clinton.
“It is inconceivable to me that any presidential candidate would be that irresponsible,” former CIA director Leon Panetta said Wednesday night.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., is downplaying criticism of Trump’s comments. In an interview Thursday with NPR’s Morning Edition, Cole said while a candidate shouldn’t send a signal to a foreign country to spy on the U.S., the real issue is whether or not the emails were deleted to begin with.
“First of all, they’re either available or not. You’re not going to retrieve them now,” Cole told NPR’s David Greene. “And second, Hillary Clinton told us that all these things are personal and have nothing to do with national security. If that were actually true, why would you worry about them being exposed?”
Cole said he still has concerns Trump doesn’t have as much experience as he would like to see in a presidential candidate, but he’s more worried about Clinton’s record when she’s been in positions of authority.
“Again, it’s Secretary Clinton that put the material at risk. It’s Secretary Clinton who’s mishandled this information. It’s Secretary Clinton that came within an eyelash of being indicted by our own government,” Cole said. “So it’s pretty amazing to me we’re worried about what Donald Trump says instead of what Hillary Clinton did.”
DAVID GREENE, HOST: We’re joined now by Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who is on the line. Congressman, good morning, thanks for coming on, as always.
U.S. REP. TOM COLE, R-OKLA.: Hey, great, thank you very much.
GREENE: So help us understand how you see what Donald Trump did yesterday. Democrats are calling him irresponsible for bringing up the idea of Russia trying to get these lost emails. What do you think?
COLE: Well, of course, what was irresponsible was the fact that they were deleted in the first place by Hillary Clinton, and the fact that she put sensitive national security data at risk. That’s the main issue here….
GREENE: OK, but I want to hear your response on Trump here. That was the news yesterday.
COLE: Look, I think there’s a lot of hyperbole going on here, tongue-in-cheek speaking. I think the central issue here, and I think Democrats know it, is the fact they’ve got a nominee that 56 percent of the American people think should’ve been indicted for the manner in which she handled the classified information. And then 70 percent of the electorate say they don’t trust. So I’m not surprised they’re trying to come at a Republican as opposed to deal with their own problems.
GREENE: But isn’t there an issue of trust here? What you think about Hillary Clinton aside for the moment, when it comes to Donald Trump as a potential commander-in-chief, I mean some would say to bring up the idea of a foreign government hacking, I mean is just going to a place where the leader of this country should not ever go.
COLE: Well, first of all, they’re either available or not. You’re not going to retrieve them now. And second, Hillary Clinton told us that all these things are personal and have nothing to do with national security. If that were actually true, why would you worry about them being exposed?
GREENE: Forgive me for saying this, but I feel like you’re reluctant to talk about Donald Trump. You’re putting the emphasis on Hillary Clinton…
COLE: No, I…
GREENE: …I really want to hear about what you think about Donald Trump yesterday, because this is a much-debated move.
COLE: No, I think the issue here is not Donald Trump. I think the issue here is Hillary Clinton. And that’s, again, it’s the fact that she mishandled this information in the first place is why we’re having this discussion. I think that’s getting lost in the discussion.
GREENE: But do you think a presidential candidate should send a signal to a foreign government that they might want to hack in to something?
COLE: No, obviously not. But I think it’s either already happened or not. Again, it’s Secretary Clinton that put the material at risk. It’s Secretary Clinton who’s mishandled this information. It’s Secretary Clinton that came within an eyelash of being indicted by our own government. So it’s pretty amazing to me we’re worried about what Donald Trump says instead of what Hillary Clinton did.
GREENE: Voters should not worry about what Donald Trump said about the idea…
COLE: They should worried a lot more about what Hillary Clinton did when she was in a position of responsibility and trust.
GREENE: Congressman, I’ve always, I’ve described you as a reluctant supporter of Donald Trump. You came around, we’ve spoken to you a lot on the program about your journey and saying that you support him with some concerns. Where are you today? Is this more of a full-throated endorsement of him?
COLE: Well, I certainly support the Republican nominee, and that’s Mr. Trump. And I’ve always said that’s what I would do. But I’ve got very grave concerns about Secretary Clinton. I really do. Because, again, I’ve seen her actions when she had enormous responsibility placed in her hands and I’ve watched her in the campaign be dishonest about what she actually did for 16 straight months. She did not tell the American people the truth. That was essentially the conclusion of the FBI.
GREENE: We have just a couple seconds. Give me one grave concern about Donald Trump.
COLE: Well, my grave concern about him is he has not got as much experience as I would like any presidential candidate to have, but my concern about Hillary Clinton is when she’s gotten experience, she’s mishandled the position.
GREENE: Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, thanks as always for joining us.
COLE: Thank you.
Copyright © 2016 NPR and KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission.
KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s and KGOU's programming is the audio.