DNC Server May Hold Key to Investigation into Russian Involvement in 2016 Election
By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Since Donald Trump stunned the world by winning the presidential election in November 2016, we have heard a relentless barrage of allegations that Russia tried to influence the outcome against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
The unfortunate aspect to this story is that federal investigators still have not seen the central piece of evidence that conclusively proves election tampering. Much news has also appeared about Russia’s hacking into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers.
Only Private Company CrowdStrike Has Accessed DNC Server
The only cybersecurity specialists who have even taken a look at the servers in question are employees of CrowdStrike. CrowdStrike is a California-based private cybersecurity company that the DNC hired to investigate the breach of its computer system.
In June 2016, CrowdStrike reported that its analysis identified two separate intelligence-affiliated breaches present in the DNC network in May 2016. On June 15, 2016, a blog post on a WordPress site authored by an individual using the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claimed credit for the DNC breach.
This blog post presented documents alleged to have originated at the DNC. Whether or not the Guccifer posting was part of a Russian intelligence disinformation campaign, the DNC said that it is exploring the documents’ authenticity and origin.
Regardless, Guccifer 2.0’s claim does nothing to lessen findings relating to the Russian government’s involvement in the 2016 election. Portions of those documents have been released to the public and the greater security community.
Many Members of Congress Believe in Russian Involvement in DNC Hack
Many members of Congress still believe Russia was responsible for the hacking of the DNC servers. But why has no federal investigator seen or examined the DNC servers? Why has the DNC never allowed federal investigators to fully examine this key piece of crucial evidence?
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is heading the committee’s inquiry into this matter. Graham told the Washington Times, “I want to find out from the company [that] did the forensics what their full findings were.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race and its possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Will Mueller’s investigation look at CrowdStrike’s analysis, which points to Moscow’s involvement? Also, will the servers be turned over to federal investigators?
Comey Testified that FBI Did Not Have Access to DNC Servers
In January, then-recently fired FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee and admitted that his investigators had been denied access to the physical servers. But Comey never said why access was denied.
Days before Comey’s testimony, BuzzFeed reported that the FBI “has still not requested access to the hacked servers.” Nevertheless, the FBI issued a report attributing the sweeping cyber intrusion to Russia-backed hackers.
“The FBI has instead relied on computer forensics from a third-party tech security company, CrowdStrike, which first determined in May of last year that the DNC’s servers had been infiltrated by Russia-linked hackers,” [an unnamed] U.S. intelligence official told BuzzFeed News.
When Comey was still FBI Director and he testified in March 2017 before the House Intelligence Committee, his investigators still had not accessed the servers but relied solely on CrowdStrike.
Former DHS Secretary Says DNC Rebuffed Offers of Assistance
Last month, according to Fox News, “Jeh Johnson, former Homeland Security Secretary under President Obama, told the House Intelligence Committee that when his department offered to help the DNC with its hacking investigation, he was told the DNC ‘did not feel it needed DHS’ assistance at that time.’”
Allegations have surfaced that Obama’s Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch allegedly assured “someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter.”
Senators Seek Answers from Loretta Lynch
In June 2017, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-California) sent a letter to former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. They asked her “to detail the depths of her involvement” in the Justice Department’s investigation of Hillary Clinton. The Senate committee also wanted to know whether Lynch had any correspondence with Clinton’s inner circle and with the DNC.
The server issue resurfaced recently after an email appeared, allegedly suggesting someone in the DNC and in the Obama administration’s Justice Department were trying to curtail the scope of the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business.
This accusation raises serious concerns. As reported by USA Today, a hacked document released by WikiLeaks on November 2, 2016, says a “Justice Department official offered Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta a ‘heads-up’ last year to a pending congressional hearing where a Justice colleague was likely to be questioned about Hillary Clinton’s email use as secretary of State.”
USA Today also reported that “in the exchange, Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik, writing on a personal email account, appears to alert Podesta to a House Judiciary Committee hearing later that day where the Justice Department’s Civil Division chief was slated to testify.”
The article continues, “’Likely to get questions on State Department emails, Kadzik wrote on May 19. The message goes on to inform Podesta of an update in a Freedom of Information Act request for State Department communications that ‘indicates it will be awhile (2016) before the State Department posts the emails.’”
As the Special Counsel proceeds, what direction will Mueller’s investigation take? Will Mueller gain access to the DNC servers in question?
Will his investigation also probe into Russian interference and possible obstruction of justice charges against President Trump or any of his associates? Or will the investigation go back to Moscow’s hacking into the DNC?
At this point, no one knows.