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President Trump elaborated on one of his favorite theories, involving a missing Democratic National Committee server, during a Friday morning phone-in Fox News interview that was rambling and conspiratorial even to the taste of his friendly interviewers on “Fox & Friends.”
“They have the server, right, from the DNC?” said Trump. “The FBI went in and they told them, ‘Get out of here, we’re not giving it to you!’ They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it’s called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian, and I still want to see that server. You know, the FBI’s never gotten that server, that’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?”
“Are you sure they did that?” asked host Steve Doocy. “Are you sure they gave it to Ukraine?”
“That’s what the word is,” said the president of the United States, “and that’s what I asked actually in my phone call if you know, I asked it very point-blank, because we’re looking for corruption.”
Trump also took the opportunity to launch another attack on Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and an important witness in the House impeachment inquiry, complaining that she “wouldn’t hang my picture in the embassy. She wouldn’t defend me. This was an Obama person, didn’t want to hang my picture in the embassy. This was not an angel, this woman.”
There was no immediate response from Yovanovitch, or independent accounts of whether Trump’s portrait was, in fact, absent from the walls of the embassy in Kyiv.
There is no DNC server, and CrowdStrike is not owned by a Ukrainian. CrowdStrike, which was co-founded by an American citizen who emigrated from Russia, is a cybersecurity firm that investigated the 2016 hack into DNC emails and turned its findings over to the FBI. Trump and his fellow conspiracy theorists on the right believe the server would contain evidence proving that Russia wasn’t responsible for the hack. (CrowdStrike found that Russia was responsible, as did special counsel Robert Mueller.)
Neither CrowdStrike nor Ukraine has the server because the investigation was done through forensic replicas of the DNC hard drives, a process called “imaging,” not looking at a physical server. Robert Johnston, a former CrowdStrike investigator who worked on the probe into the hacking of the DNC, told the Washington Post in September that Trump’s comments were “insane.”
“This is absolute babbling to the president of Ukraine,” said Johnston. “It’s hard to finger exactly which conspiracy theory he’s subscribing to. But none of them have any grounding in reality.”
“As we’ve repeatedly stated, we stand by the findings and analysis of our investigation, and, as detailed in our company statement, we’ve provided all forensic evidence and analysis to the FBI as requested,” said CrowdStrike in a statement. “Additionally, our findings have been supported by the U.S. intelligence community and other cybersecurity companies.”
Trump pushed the theory multiple times in October, during a different Fox News interview and in the Oval Office. He also brought it up during the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that triggered the whistleblower report and subsequently a formal impeachment inquiry, asking, “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike. ... The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
On Thursday, the White House’s former top expert on Russia testified that widespread official Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election was a “fictional narrative.”
“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” said Fiona Hill in her opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Trump over the years has at times suggested he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that his security services mounted a campaign to affect the 2016 election, that such a thing may have happened but it was in collusion with the Democrats against him, or that it might have been to benefit either side but the Obama administration was at fault for not preventing it.
In October, the issue was raised in a House hearing on election security.
“It has been reported that the FBI never obtained the original servers from the Democratic National Committee that had allegedly been hacked by Russia, instead relying on imaged copies,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz. “Is that correct?”
One of the witnesses, Adam Hickey, a deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, confirmed CrowdStrike’s account.
“We got the information that we required for our investigation, and it’s pretty common for us to work with a security vendor in connection with an investigation of a computer intrusion,” said Hickey.
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