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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman July 16, 2018
Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias July 16, 2018

Donald Trump's 'missing' server comments get all of the details wrong

Standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump answered reporters' questions about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and if he believed Putin’s denials over his own intelligence community’s findings.

Instead of answering the question directly, Trump began discussing servers.

"You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server -- haven't they taken the server. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I've been wondering that, I've been asking that for months and months and I've been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?

"With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server."

Moments later, Trump added, "What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They're missing; where are they?"

Trump's rhetorical question gets the details wrong.

You could take Trump's words to mean a DNC server has gone missing, but that's not true. And as for the "Pakistani gentleman," Trump is referring to a House IT staffer who did not work for the DNC and who government investigators concluded did not steal or leak computer data.

The DNC server

On July 13, the Justice Department charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hillary Clinton campaign staffers.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment confirms previous findings from the U.S. intelligence community. In April 2016, Russian intelligence officials installed spying software on the computer network of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The hack in turn allowed them access to 33 Democratic National Committee computers. The emails obtained through the hack were pushed out on social media beginning in June 2016, and Wikileaks soon joined that effort.

At some point, the FBI and DNC started working together to fight the hack and investigate how it happened, but DNC was slow to react to the FBI’s initial warning that their server had been compromised.

During former FBI director James Comey’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Comey was asked whether the FBI had ever received the DNC’s hacked hardware.

He said they did not, but obtained access 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.

DNC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson told PolitiFact that the DNC cooperated with the FBI’s requests, which resulted in the DNC providing a copy of their server.

"An image of a server is the best thing to use in an investigation so that your exploration of the server does not change the evidence (just like you don’t want investigators leaving their own DNA around a physical crime scene) and so that the bad actors cannot make changes to the evidence while you are looking at it," Watson said. "Any suggestion that they were denied access to what they wanted for their investigation is completely incorrect."

We found no indication that the FBI had renewed their request to gain access to the actual server, or that investigating the server copy would have prevented the FBI from tracking down the culprits. (The FBI declined to comment.)

Imran Awan

Trump said, "What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC?"

Trump was likely referring to Imran Awan who worked in information technology for dozens of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Trump previously referred to Awan as the "Pakistani mystery man."

Trump is wrong, though, that Awan "worked on the DNC." The national committee is a separate group from the House members.

Awan’s lawyer Christopher Gowen, as well as the DNC spokeswoman, told PolitiFact that Awan never worked for the DNC. Awan, who emigrated from Pakistan as a youth, has been a U.S. citizen since 2004.

"The government that Donald Trump is the president of has had the server from the very, very beginning of the investigation," Gowen said, referring to the server maintained by Awan and accessed by House Democrats, and a server all together different than the one hacked into atthe DNC.

Gowen said the server was a portal that Democratic members could access when working remotely. He said it has been in possession of the FBI and the Capitol Police since the first allegations were made in the case and has nothing to do with the DNC.

Awan was arrested for bank fraud in July after he identified on a home loan application that a property was a primary residence when in fact it was a rental property.

Trump was parroting news reports led by the Daily Caller about Awan. Conservative media accounts suggested that Awan might have played a role in the election hacking of the DNC, although the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.

Ultimately, Awan was charged with a minor offense unrelated to his job. In a July 3 plea agreement, Awan agreed to plead guilty to making a false statement on a loan application.

The government engaged in a "thorough investigation" that included taking custody of the House Democratic server and found no evidence of wrongdoing related to his House IT job, the government stated in the plea agreement signed by U.S Attorney’s Office.

"The government has found no evidence that your client illegally removed House data from the House network or from House Members' offices, stole the House Democratic Caucus Server, stole or destroyed House information technology equipment, or improperly accessed or transferred government information, including classified or sensitive information," said the plea agreement signed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Awan will be sentenced Aug. 21. Sentencing guidelines call for zero to six months in jail, but prosecutors agreed not to oppose a sentence of only probation.

Our ruling

Trump said, "The servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC" are "missing."

The DNC servers were never missing. The DNC provided the FBI with a copy of their server, rather than the original hardware, but Comey testified that the evidence was an appropriate substitute.

Awan, the "Pakistani gentleman" in the news, never worked for the DNC. Conservative news outlets suggested he had stolen a House Democratic server, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office found no evidence of such theft.

We rate this statement False.

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"The servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC" are "missing."
In a press conference with Vladimir Putin
Monday, July 16, 2018

Our Sources

President Donald Trump, Press conference video, July 16, 2018

President Donald Trump, Tweet, April 20, 2018, Indictment, July 13, 2018

The Guardian, Russians tried to hack Clinton server on day Trump urged email search, July 13, 2018

PolitiFact, Did John Podesta deny CIA and FBI access to DNC server, as Donald Trump claims?, July 11, 2017

Wired, FBI Says the Democratic Party Wouldn't Let Agents See the Hacked Email Servers, Jan. 5, 2017

The New York Times, The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S., Dec. 13, 2017

Washington Post, "Ex-congressional IT staffer reaches plea deal that debunks conspiracy theories about illegal information access," July 3, 2018

Washington Post, "Intrigue far exceeds evidence in IT probe," Sept. 17, 2017

New York Times, "Imran Awan, Ex-Congressional I.T. Worker, Pleads Guilty to Bank Fraud," July 3, 2018

U.S. Department of Justice, Plea agreement with Imran Awan and Statement of Offense, July 3, 2018

PolitiFact, "Headline states Debbie Wasserman Schultz headed to mental hospital, but that's not true," Aug. 2, 2017

Christopher Gowen, Imran Awan’s lawyer, Statement to media, July 3, 2018

Interview, Christopher Gowen, Imran Awan’s lawyer, July 16, 2018

Interview, Adrienne Watson, Democratic National Committee spokeswoman, July 16, 2018

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Donald Trump's 'missing' server comments get all of the details wrong

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