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Donald Trump speaks at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 8, 2017. (AP) Donald Trump speaks at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 8, 2017. (AP)

Donald Trump speaks at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 8, 2017. (AP)

Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias July 11, 2017

Did John Podesta deny CIA and FBI access to DNC server, as Donald Trump claims?

In the midst of talks on the global economy, climate change and immigration at the Group of 20 summit in Germany, President Donald Trump said there was another issue grabbing attention.

"Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!"

We’ll set aside the question of what "everybody" was talking about in Hamburg. A bigger issue is that Trump’s premise about Podesta, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, gets the facts wrong on several counts.

John Podesta’s role

Trump claimed that Podesta denied handing over a DNC server to intelligence agencies, but Podesta never chaired the DNC, nor had any involvement in the DNC’s handling of their email server, according to DNC spokesperson Adrienne Watson.

"I had nothing to do with the Democratic National Committee — I chaired Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign," Podesta wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post. "So there was no DNC server for me to refuse to give, and I was never asked for one."

The op-ed followed a seven-tweet backlash at Trump’s statement, where Podesta denied the claim and told Trump "the Russians committed a crime when they stole my emails to help get you elected President."

Podesta was, however, a victim of the same phishing trick as the DNC, led by group of hackers that the Homeland Security Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence linked to the Russian government.

"The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations," the Homeland Security Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence wrote in a joint statement released on Oct. 7, 2016.

"The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts," the statement added.

CIA and FBI’s roles

Setting aside Podesta’s role, Trump is returning to an old talking point questioning the DNC’s cooperation with the intelligence community. In March 5, Trump tweeted:

"Is it true the DNC would not allow the FBI access to check server or other equipment after learning it was hacked? Can that be possible?"

He tweeted a similar remark on March 21.

"What about all of the contact with the Clinton campaign and the Russians? Also, is it true that the DNC would not let the FBI in to look?"

In his testimony in January on the cyber attacks, then-director of the FBI James Comey said the agency never got access to the machines themselves, but obtained access to the forensics from a review of the system performed by CrowdStrike, a third-party cybersecurity firm.

"We got the forensics from the pros that they hired which -- again, best practice is always to get access to the machines themselves, but this my folks tell me was an appropriate substitute," Comey said.

"The DNC coordinated with the FBI and federal intelligence agencies and provided everything they requested, including copies of DNC servers," Watson said. She added that the copy contains the same information as the physical server.

The FBI joined CrowdStrike’s efforts to boot Russia from the server, but then-Homeland Security Department secretary Jeh Johnson complained the DNC rebuffed their offer to help. This was because Russia was already out of their system by then.

Trump's mentioning the CIA’s involvement came as a surprise to both Podesta and the DNC.

"The CIA has no role in domestic intelligence-gathering — in fact, it’s prohibited," Podesta wrote in his op-ed. "The CIA would never ask anyone at the DNC for a server. Whether the FBI asked the DNC for access to a server, I don’t know, beyond what I’ve read."

According to Watson, the CIA never requested access to the email server. The CIA provided no comment, but notes on its website its mission is focused on overseas, rather than domestic, intelligence-gathering.

We asked the White House for comment, but we didn't hear back with an on-the-record response. 

Our rating

Trump tweeted that "everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA."

Trump’s premise here is wrong. Podesta had nothing to do with the DNC server because he didn’t work at the DNC; he worked for Clinton’s campaign. The DNC claimed they received no direct requests from the CIA, and the CIA did not comment.

The DNC says it cooperated with the FBI, providing information on the server through a third-party vendor.The FBI provided no comment, but then-FBI director Comey said it was an appropriate substitute.

We rate this statement False.

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Says John Podesta "refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!"
in a tweet
Friday, July 7, 2017

Our Sources

CBS News, "The phishing email that hacked the account of John Podesta," Oct. 28, 2016

Politico, "Trump: 'Everyone' at G-20 talking about Podesta not giving server to authorities," July 7, 2017

Email interview with Dean Boyd, CIA director of public affairs, July 7, 2017

Email interview with Steven Cheung, assistant communications Director, July 7, 2017

Phone interview with Adrienne Watson, DNC deputy communications director, July 7, 2017

Buzzfeed, "The FBI Never Asked For Access To Hacked Computer Servers," Jan. 4, 2017

Buzzfeed, "The FBI Now Says Democrats Were Behind Hack Investigation Delay," Jan. 5, 2017

CQ, "House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee Holds Hearing on Russian Election Tampering," March 20, 2017

Tweets, John Podesta, July 7, 2017

Tweet, Donald Trump, July 7, 2017

Tweet, Donald Trump, March 5, 2017

Tweet, Donald Trump, March 21, 2017

DHS.gov, "Joint Statement from the Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security," Oct. 7, 2016

Washington Post, "John Podesta: Why is Trump tweeting about me when he should be doing his job?," July 7, 2017

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