As Russian hackers target Democratic campaigns, GOP gubernatorial nominee Scott Wagner insists he was just 'joking' when he said Russia would help him defeat his Democratic opponent in Pennsylvania.

Scott Wagner, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, was caught on tape “joking” that the Russian government will help him win in November.

In an audio recording provided to the Huffington Post by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Wagner can be heard saying that the Russians are going to help him defeat his Democratic opponent, incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf.

Wagner made the comments Friday at an event in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.

“By the way,” Wagner said to a crowd at Wyomissing Restaurant and Bakery, “the Russians are going to help me with Tom Wolf.”

“If I have to use Paul Manafort, I will,” he said, referring to Trump’s thrice-indicted former campaign manager who is currently facing a slew of charges stemming from his work for pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Wagner’s remarks were met with laughter, and a spokesperson for his campaign told The Hill that Wagner was “obviously joking when he made those comments” — but the idea of Russia helping a Republican candidate defeat a Democratic opponent is no laughing matter.

A string of recent reports confirm that Democratic candidates are, indeed, being targeted by hackers ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Russia has already been identified as the culprit in some cases, and the evidence strongly points to Russia in others.

In late July, The Daily Beast reported that Russian cyber operatives tried to hack Sen. Claire McCaskill and her campaign staff, though the attempt was unsuccessful.

Two Democratic candidates in California, David Min and Dr. Hans Keirstead, were also targeted by hackers during the state’s open primaries. Both candidates lost their races.

Notably, Keirstead was running in California’s 48th District, where he hoped to unseat Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher — a pro-Russia candidate who is often referred to as Putin’s favorite congressman.

And although she is not up for re-election in 2018, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was also targeted in an elaborate scheme involving hacking, hoax emails, and an impersonator attempting to get insider information on sanctions against Russia.

Meanwhile, Facebook recently reported that it had detected and interrupted a foreign influence operation targeting American voters.

Although it could not yet attribute the entire operation to Russia, at least one of the accounts it identified was known to be operated out of Russia’s Internet Research Agency.

Additional evidence of ongoing Russian interference was revealed late Monday night, when The New York Times reported that Microsoft had recently detected and seized several websites created by Russia’s military intelligence agency targeting conservative think tanks that split with Trump and took a tough posture toward Russia.

At a press conference in early August, five top national security officials warned of the ongoing threat, saying that Russia was engaged in election-related hacking and influence operations aimed at interfering in the 2018 midterms. Cybersecurity experts say individual political campaigns are most vulnerable to these activities.

Despite these warnings, Trump still can’t bring himself to condemn Russia for interfering in the 2016 election nor tell them to stay away from future elections. He frequently refers to the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt,” even after multiple rounds of indictments, including the most recent in July that charged 12 Russian intelligence officers for their role in hacking the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Wagner, who is aligning himself closely with Trump, thinks Russian interference in U.S. elections is a laughing matter.

Or maybe the flailing GOP candidate is hoping that the Kremlin will respond to this “joke” like it responded to Trump’s call for Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails: by listening.

Published with permission of The American Independent.