-- Donald Trump has said he never spoke to Russian President Vladmir Putin, but appeared to suggest that Russian hackers should find thousands of Hillary Clinton's deleted emails -- saying "I wish I had that power."
"I've never spoken to him. I don't know anything about him other than he will respect me," Trump said during a press conference this morning at his golf club in Doral, Florida. "I have nothing to do with Russia."
"By the way, if they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do," he continued. "They probably have her 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted."
Many observers offered a swift rebuke, claiming that Trump had been essentially inviting a foreign country to hack the US, and intervene in our elections.
Later in the day, Trump held an event in Scranton, Pa. where he appeared to speak around the controversy caused by his remarks.
"And then I see [the] campaign manager, I don’t know, a young guy, nice guy, who knows. And he’s on television and he said that Russia hacked them. Right? No no he said Russia hacked them," he said. "And I said huh how doe she know? He doesn’t really know but he said Russia hacked them and then he said 'uh Trump, Trump yeah Trump.'”
Trump was likely referring to Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook, who on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday alleging that Russian hackers leaked the DNC emails critical of Bernie Sanders in the hopes of harming Clinton in November.
"And I’m sitting here watching him like what did I do?" Trump said at the Scranton event. "Right? I wish I had that power. Man, that would be power."
He then categorized the Clinton campaign -- which suggested that Trump had a close relationship with Putin -- as trying to smear him.
"Now these are lying, bad people, folks," Trump said of the Clinton campaign. "These are bad, bad people and they're’ incompetent people."
While answering questions from reporters in Florida, Trump looked directly into the cameras and said, “Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."
Clinton came under investigation for her use of a personal email server while she was secretary of state. After turning over to the FBI all correspondence about government business during her years at the State Department, Clinton revealed at a press conference last year that she had deleted about half of her emails that pertained to personal matters, like her daughter's wedding. Attorney General Loretta Lynch ultimately decided not to pursue criminal charges against Clinton.
Clinton's senior policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, released a statement in response to Trump's comments.
"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," Sullivan said. "That's not hyperbole. Those are just the facts. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity and a matter of politics to being a national security issue."
Meanwhile, Trump’s senior communications advisor, Jason Miller, tried to walk back the nominee’s comments in a series of tweets.
A handful of major cybersecurity firms have concluded that Russian hackers were the likely culprits in the DNC hacking. WikiLeaks published the emails last week. Michael Buratowski, a cyber analyst at one of the firms that investigated the hack, told ABC News on Monday that Russians were to blame, "beyond a reasonable doubt." According to him, the hackers were using Russian internet addresses and typing on keyboards configured in Cyrillic.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that accusations that Moscow was responsible for the hack on the DNC, which is being investigated by the FBI, are "absurd."
"If it is Russia," Trump said at the press conference today, "It shows how little respect they have for our country."
He added, "It's probably not Russia."
The real estate mogul said he would be "so much better for U.S.-Russian relations" if elected president. But he refused to tell Putin to stay out of the election.
"I'm not going to tell Putin what to do. Why should I tell Putin what to do?” Trump retorted.
Within minutes of Trump's on-camera comments, his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, released a statement saying there will be "serious consequences" if Russia is behind the cyberattack.
"If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you, both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences," he said.
ABC News' Ines DeLaCuetara and Liz Kreutz contributed to this report.