Donald Trump on Sunday pitched into the ongoing furore over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, saying: “The fact is, what she has done is criminal.”
Investigators this week asked the Justice Department to look into a “potential compromise of classified information” surrounding the private email server, a department official said on Friday. The official said the referral did not relate to possible criminal wrongdoing, despite having said earlier on Friday that it did.
On Saturday, in Iowa, Clinton told reporters she never knowingly sent or received classified information using her private server and did not know what messages were being cited by investigators.
Appearing on CNN on Sunday to discuss a new poll of GOP voters which showed him leading the 16-strong Republican field – on 18% to 15% for Jeb Bush and 10% for Scott Walker – Trump said “I haven’t focused on Hillary”, though he added that he had made “some very strong statements” about her at an Iowa rally of his own on Saturday.
“The fact is that what she’s done is criminal,” he said. “I don’t see how she can run. Because if the prosecutors – who are all Democrats, by the way, and that’s part of the problem with fairness here, they’re protecting her – but if you had an impartial prosecutor and they were honorable – maybe they are, we’re going to find out – but what she’s done is criminal.”
Trump said what Clinton did was “far worse than what General Petraeus did” – the former CIA director was sentenced to probation for leaking classified information to a biographer who was also his lover – and said she had “got rid of the server after getting a subpoena from the United States Congress”.
Trump was pressed by CNN host Jake Tapper about what criminal behaviour he was talking about. “I’m talking about the whole email scandal,” he said. “It’s a scandal. She’s been protected.” He criticised the New York Times for changing a story on the issue and repeated: “What Hillary did was criminal.”
“And we will see whether or not that takes her out of the race,” he said. “But, in theory, she shouldn’t even be in the race.”
Trump predicted he would beat Clinton in a head-to-head election. The CNN poll had him losing, 56% to 40%, to the Democratic frontrunner in such a race, and losing 59% to 38% in a race against Senator Bernie Sanders.
Trump, who in the face of Republican opprobrium this week flirted with the prospect of an independent campaign, has been close to Clinton in the past, having donated to her and to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton attended Trump’s third wedding. Her husband, the former president Bill Clinton, missed the service but attended the reception.
The CNN poll was the first major poll taken since Trump caused uproar by saying the Arizona senator John McCain was “not a war hero”. On Saturday, the Guardian learned that a number of people who were listed in a “Veterans for Trump” group by the Trump campaign said they had no knowledge of such a group.
In an email statement, a Trump spokeswoman said: “The campaign has written confirmation of support from each of the individuals listed as part of the New Hampshire Veterans Coalition, including those quoted in this story. We are extremely proud to have their support.”
Also appearing on CNN, the former Texas governor Rick Perry repeated his firm condemnation of Trump, which has seen him call the business mogul “a cancer on conservatism”.
“We’ve got to see the real Donald Trump,” Perry said. “And I’ve got some real problems with that. What he is doing is not moving the cause of conservatism forward.”