NEW YORK : Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, said Thursday he was being “sarcastic” when he said he hopes Russian hackers obtain deleted emails from his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s private server.

“Of course I was being sarcastic,” the Republican presidential nominee said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” programme. “And frankly, they don’t even know if it’s Russia, if it’s China, if it’s someone else. Who knows who it is?”“They have no idea if it’s Russia, if it’s China, if it’s somebody else,” he said in an interview aired Thursday on “Fox and Friends.” programme. “Who knows it is?”

Trump said Democrats are trying to distract voters from a trove of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails leaked last week.

“The real problem is what was said on those emails from the Democratic National Committee,” he told host Brian Kilmeade.

 “They talk about religion, they talk about race, they talk about all sorts of things, including women.

“What they said on those emails is a disgrace. It’s disgraceful, it’s disgraceful. They’re just trying to deflect from that.”

Trump on Wednesday said he wished Russian hackers would find tens of thousands of emails deleted from Clinton’s server.

“If they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails,” he said during a press conference at his Miami-area hotel. “I hope they do.“Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by the press.”

Clinton last year gave the State Department roughly 30,000 work-related emails from the private storage device she used while serving as secretary.Clinton, who is now the Democratic presidential nominee, added that about 30,000 more personal emails were deleted.

Trump’s initial comments were quickly condemned by the Clinton campaign, many in the foreign policy community and scores of Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose spokesman said Russia is “a global menace led by a devious thug” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin “should stay out of this election.”

On Wednesday night, former CIA Director Leon Panetta spoke about Trump’s comments on the emails during his speech before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“Today, Donald Trump once again took Russia’s side,” Panetta said. “He asked the Russians to interfere in American politics.”