LAKELAND, Florida (AP) — His campaign struggling a month from Election Day, Donald Trump sharpened his rhetoric Wednesday from calling for Hillary Clinton's defeat to declaring "she has to go to jail" for using a homebrew email server and other charges of corruption while she was secretary of state.
Trump told supporters at a rally in battleground Florida that the Justice Department's handling of the probe into Clinton's email server let her off the hook and suggested that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress went along with it. The Justice Department declined to prosecute Clinton, but FBI Director James Comey criticized her and her aides for being "extremely careless" with classified information.
"Did they make a deal where everybody protects each other in Washington?" Trump asked Wednesday. The Republican nominee went on to call it "one of the great miscarriages of justice" in United States history and declared that Clinton "would be the most dishonest and the most corrupt person ever elected to high office and I don't think it would be close."
"This corruption and collusion is just one more reason why I will ask my attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor," to investigate Clinton and the fact that she apparently deleted thousands of emails that were never recovered, Trump said.
He later made clear: "She deleted the emails. She has to go to jail."
It was a dramatic escalation of rhetoric by the Republican presidential nominee whose campaign was hobbled on Friday with the release of a recording on which Trump brags about groping women without their consent because he is famous. Trump has apologized. But widespread condemnation followed, including from dozens of Republican officeholders who called on Trump to quit the presidential race and let his running mate, Mike Pence, complete it as the GOP nominee. Trump has refused and amped up his attacks on Clinton by bringing up Bill Clinton's sexual past and saying the former first lady attacked his alleged partners.
The difference from just a few months ago was stark. Just after the Republican National Convention, Trump responded to his supporters' chants of "lock her up" by suggesting "Let's just beat her in November."
At Sunday's debate in St. Louis, the nominee himself made that very threat — an unprecedented break with U.S. political decorum. It came after Clinton had said it is "awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country."
Trump blasted back, "Because you'd be in jail."
That call was denounced by some Republicans and Democrats alike but Trump has not been deterred.
His new attacks came during a two-day swing through Florida, including a stop Wednesday in Lakeland on the crucial I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando.
But Trump didn't solely train his fire on his Democratic opponent.
Trump has complained bitterly in recent days about House Speaker Paul Ryan, who told Republican House members on Monday that he would focus on maintaining a majority in Congress and would no longer campaign for Trump. He noted that Ryan didn't call and say "good going" after his performance in Sunday's debate.
Trump claimed that there is a "whole sinister deal going on" that has prevented Ryan and other Republican leaders from fully backing his campaign but he didn't elaborate.