PHILADELPHIA — In a blistering, mocking speech Wednesday, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared Donald Trump dangerously unfit to be commander in chief, accusing the brash entrepreneur of inviting Russian spies to help him defeat Hillary Clinton.
“We cannot afford an erratic finger on our nuclear weapons,” Panetta, who also served President Obama as CIA director, told party faithful at the Democratic nominating convention here. “Donald Trump cannot become our commander in chief.”
Panetta blasted the former reality-show star for calling on Russia earlier in the day to track down an estimated 30,000 emails Clinton deleted from a controversial private server she used as secretary of state.
“Donald Trump, today, once again took Russia’s side,” the Democrat said. “He asked the Russians to interfere in American politics. Think about that. Think about that for a moment. Donald Trump, who wants to be president of the United States, is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States to affect an election.”
The crowd booed, many chanting, “No more war!” The raucous delegates several times forced Panetta to pause.
“As someone who was responsible for protecting our nation from cyberattacks, it’s inconceivable to me that any presidential candidate would be that irresponsible,” Panetta said.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have been blaming Moscow for the theft of Democratic National Committee emails that showed that the supposedly neutral party organization favored Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Asked about the controversy during a press conference outside Miami, Trump directly appealed to Moscow.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the Republican presidential nominee said, staring directly into the bank of television cameras set up at a golf course he owns. “I think you will probably be mightily rewarded by our press.”
The remarks drew widespread condemnation, adding fuel to charges from Democrats and some high-profile Republicans, including some of Trump’s primary rivals, that he should not become commander in chief.
Panetta echoed other critics who have assailed Trump for embracing the use of waterboarding, a harsh interrogation practice that meets international definitions of torture, and who have denounced his refusal to embrace the mutual defense guarantee at the heart of the NATO alliance.
“Donald Trump says he gets his foreign policy experience from watching TV and running the Miss Universe Pageant,” Panetta said. “If only it were funny. But it is deadly serious.”
Trump, he charged, “asks our troops to commit war crimes, endorses torture, spurns our allies from Europe to Asia, suggests that countries to have nuclear weapons, and he praises dictators, from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin.”
Panetta, who served former President Bill Clinton as chief of staff, vouched for the former first lady’s leadership.
“In this election, here’s the only candidate for president who has the experience, the temperament and the judgment to be commander-in-chief: and that’s Hillary Clinton,” he said.