Story highlights

Trump: 'I don't know that it can be more serious than deleting or getting rid of 33,000 emails'

Trump's comments come as he is trying to put his latest self-induced controversy to bed

Abingdon, Virginia CNN  — 

Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton Wednesday of engaging in “pay-for-play” practices after newly released emails raised questions about the relationship between Clinton’s State Department and the Clinton Foundation.

“A couple of very bad ones came out and it’s called pay-for-play and some of these were really, really bad – and illegal. If it’s true, it’s illegal. You’re paying and you’re getting things,” Trump said Wednesday as he campaigned in a Republican stronghold of the swing state of Virginia.

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which has worked to obtain emails from Clinton’s State Department via the Freedom of Information Act, released 296 pages of emails Tuesday from Clinton aides, which raised questions about the Clinton Foundation’s influence on the State Department.

Newly released Clinton emails shed light on relationship between State Dept. and Clinton Foundation

The release shows several emails in which top Clinton Foundation official Doug Band asks Huma Abedin, one of Clinton’s top aides at the State Department, for favors. In one instance, he sought to get a job for an individual at the State Department. In another, he asked Abedin to put a billionaire Clinton Foundation donor in contact with a State Department official in Lebanon.

Trump characterized the interactions as “pay-for-play,” calling it “very serious stuff” and “illegal.”

“I don’t know that it can be more serious than deleting or getting rid of 33,000 emails,” Trump said, referring to emails Clinton deleted from her private server. Clinton said those emails were not work-related and therefore not part of what she turned over to the State Department for archiving.

Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin called Trump’s comments “a classic Trump playbook move.”

“Make a false statement that overreaches and hope it changes the conversation from his comments yesterday casually inciting violence,” he said in a statement. “It’s clear that he continues to falsely attack Hillary Clinton as a method of distracting from his campaign’s latest meltdown.”

The scrutiny of Clinton’s private email server while at the State Department has fueled public distrust of her and plagued her presidential bid. The Justice Department declined to press charges against Clinton for her use of the private server earlier this year.

The Clinton Foundation was not part of the investigation into her private server. The FBI went to the Justice Department earlier this year asking for it to open a case into the foundation, but the public integrity unit declined. The Justice Department had looked into whether it should open a case on the foundation a year prior and found it didn’t have sufficient evidence to do so.

Trump’s comments Wednesday come as he is trying to put his latest self-induced controversy to bed after suggesting Tuesday that “Second Amendment people” could take action to prevent Clinton from appointing Supreme Court justices who might oppose gun rights, should she be elected president.

Secret Service spoke to Trump campaign about 2nd Amendment comment

Many critics interpreted those comments as a threat of violence against Clinton, and a Secret Service official told CNN Wednesday that the agency has spoken with the Trump campaign about the remarks.

As his campaign surrogates continued to play clean-up on those comments Wednesday morning, Trump went on campaigning as if nothing had happened.

After meeting with a group of coal mining executives, local business leaders and politicians, Trump took the stage Wednesday brandishing a bright yellow “Trump digs coal” rally sign, underscoring his support for the coal industry – and the voters in this region whose economy relies on the industry.

And while he continued to hammer Clinton and Democrats on familiar territory – from Clinton’s comments vowing the coal industry’s demise to his allegations of widespread voter fraud that could hurt his chances in November – Trump addressed supporters in a slightly more subdued tone. Instead of a standard rally, the event was held in a smaller venue where most attendees were seated.

And while he again accused Clinton of saying she would raise taxes on the middle class – a debunked claim – Trump appeared to offer a modest defense of the Democratic nominee.

“Ah, maybe she misspoke,” Trump said. “I mean we have to give ‘em a break, but it did come out awfully loud and clear. I don’t know.”

Still, Trump didn’t hesitate to hit Clinton on her comments about putting the coal industry and miners “out of business,” for which she later apologized during a campaign stop in West Virginia, where the economy heavily relies on the coal industry.

“She was groveling. She was groveling,” Trump said.