(CNSNews.com) – The execution of an Iranian nuclear scientist surfaced on the campaign trail Monday when Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested that his Democratic rival’s private server emails may have been linked to his death.
“Many people are saying that the Iranians killed the scientist who helped the U.S. because of Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails,” Trump tweeted, in reference to Shahram Amiri, executed last week according to the Iranian judiciary.
Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state is a major controversy in her presidential campaign and Trump’s tweet referred to reports that a couple of emails – among thousands released by the State Department in line with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit – referred implicitly to Amiri.
The tweet drew a sharp retort from Nick Merrill, Clinton’s traveling press secretary, who said the GOP nominee was presenting a fabrication, under the cover of what other, unnamed people supposedly are saying.
“‘Many people are saying’ = ‘I made this up’” Merrill tweeted. “After a morning on the teleprompter, the muzzle was bound to come off.” (Trump gave a major economic speech in Detroit earlier in the day, reading off a teleprompter.)
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), for one, has raised concerns about the emails on Clinton's private server in relation to Amiri’s fate.
“In the emails that were on Hillary Clinton’s private server, there were conversations among her senior advisers about this gentleman,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday – the day Iranian officials announced last week’s execution.
“That goes to show just how reckless and careless her decision was to put that kind of highly classified information a private server,” Cotton said. “I think her judgment is not suited to keep this country safe.”
Amiri disappeared in Saudi Arabia in mid-2009, and resurfaced in Washington the following year amid conflicting claims about whether he had defected or been abducted by the CIA, as charged by Tehran.
He returned to Iran in July 2010, apparently of his own volition. (There have been claims he felt compelled to return because of regime threats against family members.) Iran welcomed him back as a hero, but later put him on trial for espionage.
Among the cache of emails released by the State Department from Clinton’s private server was one dated July 5, 2010, in which Richard Morningstar, at the time a State Department special envoy for Eurasian energy, discussed an unnamed “friend” with senior Clinton advisor Jake Sullivan.
“Per the subject we discussed, we have a diplomatic, ‘psychological’ issue, not a legal issue. Our friend has to be given a way out,” Morningstar wrote. “We should recognize his concerns and frame it in terms of a misunderstanding with no malevolent intent and that we will make sure there is no recurrence. Our person won’t be able to do anything anyway. If he has to leave so be it.”
Sullivan forwarded the email to Clinton, which is how it came to be among the thousands released by the State Department. It is marked “unclassified.”
Questioned at a daily briefing Monday about possible Amiri references in the Clinton emails, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau declined to comment on “what may have led to this event” – that is, to the execution.
Trudeau said in response to a follow-up question that none of the emails in question had been upgraded to “classified” before the department released them to the public.