Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump National Doral, July 27, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump National Doral, July 27, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump encouraged Russia on Wednesday to hack into the email server of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, to find "the 30,000 emails that are missing" from her time as the country's secretary of state.

“It would be interesting to see. I will tell you this, Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump told reporters. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

He said Moscow "probably" already has the emails Clinton considered to be private and deleted from the private email server she used while she was the top U.S. diplomat from 2009 to 2013, during President Barack Obama's first term.

“They probably have them," Trump said. "I’d like to have them released. It gives me no pause, if they have them, they have them. If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., march du
Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., march during a protest in downtown Philadelphia, July 25, 2016, on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

The Clinton campaign called Trump's statement the "first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against a political opponent."

Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a speech at the Democratic National Convention that Trump was asking an adversary to affect the country's election.

"It's inconceivable to me that any presidential candidate would be this irresponsible," Panetta said.

Senior Trump advisor Stephen Miller accused Panetta of excusing Clinton's use of the private email system, saying it enabled foreign espionage and that Panetta "should know how many lives she put at risk."

A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the matter told VOA that Trump's comments would have no bearing on upcoming intelligence briefings Trump will receive as the Republican presidential candidate.

"Nominees for president and vice president receive these classified briefings by virtue of their status as candidates, and do not require separate security clearances before the briefings,” the official said. "Candidates are advised of the classified nature of the material."

The official also emphasized that the briefings for Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton "will be provided on an even-handed, non-partisan basis."

Trump's comments came at a wide-ranging news conference at his golf resort in Florida, where he downplayed his connections to Russia.

WATCH: Trump on Russia hacking Clinton emails

WikiLeaks release

U.S. computer experts have said in recent days they believe that Russian state actors are behind the hacking into computers at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, following WikiLeaks' release of nearly 20,000 emails that showed party officials favored Clinton's presidential nomination and tried to undermine the candidacy of her rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Some Democratic officials are claiming that the timing of the release of the documents, just before the Democratic National Convention convened this week to acclaim Clinton's nomination, suggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin favors Trump in November's U.S. national election to pick Obama's successor. Russia said it had nothing to do with the security breach.

Clinton, who claimed her party's 2016 nomination on Tuesday, said she considers the hacking to be a national security issue. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is probing the breach.

A woman wears a shirt reading "Trump Putin '16" wh
A woman wears a shirt reading "Trump Putin '16" while waiting for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a campaign event at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire, Feb. 7, 2016.

No respect

Trump sought to distance himself from the purported Russian connection to the hacking at Democratic offices and Moscow's supposed support for his candidacy.

"It is so farfetched," he said. "It’s so ridiculous. Honestly I wish I had that power. I’d love to have that power, but Russia has no respect for our country."

Trump repeatedly said, "I have nothing to do with Russia,” although he had praised Putin in the past. "I have nothing to do with Russia. I said that Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama, but who doesn’t know that?"

Clinton's use of the private email server, rather than a government server, has been a long-running controversy in the U.S., complicating her run for the White House. The FBI recently concluded that she was "extremely careless" in her handling of classified information in the emails during her time as secretary of state but that no criminal charges were warranted.

VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.