WASHINGTON — Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan has expressed open gratitude for WikiLeaks, which recently released thousands of private emails and speech transcripts linking Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to controversies.

“Let me be clear: Thank God for Wikileaks,” the three-term congressman from Laurens said Monday on Twitter, “doing the job that (mainstream media) WON’T!”

The remark was greeted in the Twitterverse with near-instant criticism from South Carolina Democrats.

“SC embarrassed again on the national scene,” said former state Rep. Bakari Sellers.

“Probably thanked God for the Watergate break-in too,” said Matthew Ellison, communications and policy director for the South Carolina Democratic Party.

Journalists also responded: “Are you encouraging the press to use hacking as a technique to gather information?” tweeted NBC producer Frank Thorp V.

Hacking is an especially sore spot for South Carolina taxpayers, too, who were victims of the 2012 breach when tax information was stolen from the Department of Revenue.

Duncan, who unlike other members of Congress controls his own Twitter account and often takes to the Internet to sound off on the news of the day, later attempted to clarify his thinking.

In follow-up tweets, he said he was not praising WikiLeaks for illegally obtaining private emails from Clinton campaign officials. Authorities believe the break-in was accomplished in conjunction with Russian hackers — the same ones believed to have gotten into Democratic National Committee email accounts on the eve of the party’s nominating convention.

“Thankful info is out there for sure, but never have condoned illegal activity,” Duncan tweeted.

He also said his tweets did not reflect “praise for Assange,” referring to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid facing rape allegations in Sweden. “Crazy that public opinion is being driven this election cycle by an accused rapist hiding out in the Embassy of (a) foreign country,” Duncan said.

Duncan did argue there wouldn’t have been a need for a WikiLeaks document dump if Clinton’s allies in the Obama administration had not erased the emails on the private server she maintained during her tenure as secretary of state.

“Thankful info is out there for sure, but never have condoned illegal activity,” Duncan explained. “Maybe, if (Clinton) hadn’t destroyed and if FBI had not destroyed evidence & ALL emails turned over — we would have a clear picture without Wiki(Leaks).”

The newest batch of emails doesn’t appear to relate to the Benghazi attacks, details about which Republicans think Clinton’s private emails might have conveyed. Rather, they come mainly from Clinton presidential campaign officials discussing some other thorny topics, like ethical concerns regarding the Clinton Foundation’s dealing with foreign governments.

“Why doesn’t it infuriate more people that Clintons used USGOV as personal slush fund for Clinton Foundation & personal wealth?” Duncan tweeted.

Duncan also seemed to be alluding to an email sent during the primary from interim DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile to the Clinton campaign, wherein Brazile — then the DNC vice chairwoman and a contributor with CNN — seemed to be sharing intelligence about a debate question that might be a stumbling block for the candidate.

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“Major Networks seem to be in collusion with (Clinton) camp — failing to report on the whole story,” tweeted Duncan. “But quick to jump on a tweet for sure.”

Fellow Republicans in the S.C. congressional delegation declined Monday to weigh in on whether they agreed with Duncan’s praise of hacking when anti-Clinton content was disclosed.

The offices of U.S. Reps, Trey Gowdy, Tom Rice and Joe Wilson did not respond to requests for comment. Spokeswomen for Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Mark Sanford said there would be no statements coming.

But a Duncan spokesman provided The Post and Courier with a lengthy statement Monday afternoon offering further clarification into the lawmaker’s thinking.

“Congressman Duncan does not condone any illegal hacking — end of story,” the spokesman said. “His point is that Americans expect oversight of the executive branch and powerful officials. Tragically, the critical media counterweight against the abuse of power — which makes a government by and for the people possible — is being tilted to one side by those who are connected and in power for their own personal gain.”

The statement added, “It’s unfortunate that illegal hacking is what exposed (Hillary Clinton’s) impropriety and collusion with the media — unfortunate because that only emboldens more distrust of America’s leaders and media elites.”

Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.