WASHINGTON — Sixteen hours after President Trump tweeted about a right-wing media story alleging that China hacked Hillary Clinton’s private email server, an FBI official is refuting the report in a comment to NBC News.
"The FBI has not found any evidence the (Clinton) servers were compromised," the official said.
It’s the latest example of the widening breach between a president who traffics in unverified news accounts and the law enforcement agencies he frequently maligns.
The FBI official, speaking for the bureau, also pointed to a report issued in June by the Justice Department inspector general that examined the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server.
In the report, the IG noted that while the FBI assessed that it was "possible" that hostile actors gained access to Clinton’s private email server, the bureau "acknowledged that the FBI investigation and its forensic analysis did not find evidence that Clinton’s email server systems were compromised."
According to the IG report, an FBI forensics agent assigned to the case told investigators that, although he did not believe there was "any way of determining...100%" whether Clinton’s servers had been compromised, he felt "fairly confident that there wasn’t an intrusion." When asked whether a sophisticated foreign adversary was likely to be able to cover its tracks, he stated, "They could. Yeah. But I, I felt as if we coordinated with the right units at headquarters...for those specific adversaries.... And the information that was returned back to me was that there was no indication of a compromise."
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The FBI statement came after a right-wing media organization, the Daily Caller, published a story alleging that "a Chinese-owned company operating in the Washington, D.C., area hacked Hillary Clinton’s private server throughout her term as secretary of state and obtained nearly all her emails." The story cited two sources briefed on the matter.
The story cited a remark at a July hearing by a conservative Republican congressman, Louis Gohmert of Texas, that an investigator for another inspector general — the Intelligence Community Inspector General — told him that virtually all of Clinton’s emails were sent to a "foreign entity."
Gohmert said in a statement that he stands by his story.
The story said the Chinese firm "obtained Clinton’s emails in real time as she sent and received communications and documents through her personal server, " and that "the hacking was conducted as part of an intelligence operation."
The story appeared to prompt this tweet last night by Trump:
"Report just out: 'China hacked Hillary Clinton’s private Email Server.' Are they sure it wasn’t Russia (just kidding!)? What are the odds that the FBI and DOJ are right on top of this? Actually, a very big story. Much classified information!"
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment about Gohmert's allegation or the Daily Caller story.
The Justice Department IG's report noted that the FBI conducted "'intrusion analyses' on each of Clinton’s devices and other evidence to determine whether any classified information had been compromised," and said the agent assigned to conduct forensic analysis "described the team's efforts in this regard as exhaustive."
"He stated that these efforts included (1) examining the servers and others devices to identify suspicious logins or other activity, and (2) searching numerous datasets to determine whether foreign adversaries or known hostile domestic actors had accessed emails that the [team] had confirmed to contain classified information."
Former FBI Director James Comey, in his July 5, 2016, press conference regarding possible cyber intrusion of Clinton’s email servers, said the FBI had not found direct evidence of any intrusion into her personal email domain, but didn't rule out the possibility.
"Given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account ... She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal email account."
Comey's remarks were widely reported.