GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Donald J. Trump called President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “a better leader” than President Obama, offering the praise in an interview with “Fox and Friends” on Thursday, just a day after saying he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email.Asked about comments he had made Wednesday at a news conference in Florida, where he said, “Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama,” Mr. Trump reiterated his views in slightly starker terms.
“I said he’s a better leader than Obama,” Mr. Trump said. “I said he’s a better leader than Obama, because Obama’s not a leader, so he’s certainly doing a better job than Obama is, and that’s all.”
Mr. Trump also tried to walk back, in part, comments he made Wednesday about Russia hacking Mrs. Clinton’s emails — an extraordinary moment in which the Republican nominee basically urged Russia, an adversary, to conduct cyber espionage against a former secretary of state.
“Of course, I’m being sarcastic,” Mr. Trump said in the interview taped Wednesday that aired Thursday morning. “But you have 33,000 emails deleted, and the real problem is what was said in those emails from the Democratic National Committee. You take a look at what was said in those emails, it’s disgraceful. It’s disgraceful.”
Mr. Trump seemed to be conflating the roughly 30,000 emails on Mrs. Clinton’s private server during her time as secretary of state, which her lawyers deleted as personal, and the roughly 20,000 emails Democratic National Committee emails that had been hacked.
Mr. Trump’s comments Wednesday about Russian hacking set off a firestorm of criticism, and his efforts to recalibrate his remarks began just hours after he looked into a bank of television cameras and declared, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
Mr. Trump posted on Twitter on Wednesday that he was simply urging Russia — if it had indeed hacked Mrs. Clinton — to hand her emails over to the proper authorities. “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the F.B.I!” Mr. Trump wrote.
But on Thursday, he twice he called his comments about Russia “sarcastic.”
Some Republicans have stepped forward to defend Mr. Trump.
On Thursday, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, defended Mr. Trump in a radio interview with the “Mike Gallagher Show,” saying, “The Russians have those emails, they’ve had them for some time
“If they could get into that D.N.C. server, they owned her server in Poughkeepsie,” Mr. Giuliani told the conservative radio host. “And not only did they own it, but so did the Russians, possibly the Israelis, maybe a couple of other allies. And by the way, we do the same thing to them so don’t get all upset.”
In a radio interview with Laura Ingraham Thursday morning, Ms. Ingraham asked Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, Mr. Trump’s running mate, “Should Americans be concerned that the Republican nominee is inviting a foreign government to hack into government emails?”
Mr. Pence, echoing the campaign’s public posture, said several times that Mr. Trump was just being “sarcastic” and he sought to reframe Mr. Trump’s remarks.
“Well it’s absolutely not what he said,” Mr. Pence said. “What he said — what I said — was, clearly if Russia or any foreign country was interfering or intervening or engaging in illegal activity in the United states, in our elections or otherwise, that there be serious consequences.”
Mr. Pence added: “He went on using in a statement laced with sarcasm to point out that there are 33,000 missing emails according to the F.B.I. that Hillary Clinton deleted or did not make available in the course of that investigation.”
Mr. Trump’s provocative remarks, which came on the penultimate day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, largely dominated the news cycle during the day on Wednesday, as Mr. Trump and his running mate, Mr. Pence, hopscotched the nation campaigning.
Even before Mr. Trump showed up for his final rally of the day in Toledo, Ohio, the arena buzzed with talk of foreign espionage, absent emails and the Republican nominee’s appeal earlier in the day to Russian officials to find and publish the Clinton emails.
“We’d be lucky if Russia helped us out,” said Kathye Zaper, a realtor from Maumee, Ohio, who was wearing a hat bearing the Trump campaign’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Ms. Zaper said, “The Clintons are a bunch of liars who need to be exposed any way possible. They should lock Hillary up and throw away the key.”
Though Mr. Trump’s comments so defied political orthodoxy that even many of his political backers — including Mr. Pence — sought to condemn any interference by Russia in American elections and governing, people at the rally in Toledo applauded what they described as Mr. Trump’s forthrightness.
Pam Thieman, a 61-year-old retiree from Toledo, said she thought Mr. Trump had a “great idea” in encouraging the Russians to hack Mrs. Clinton’s email. “I’m more than happy to have Putin help,” she said. “We’ve got to expose everything that woman is hiding.”