The FBI didn't examine Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers before concluding -- and publicly announcing -- that Russian hackers infiltrated the machines, a new report says.
Material from those servers played a central role in the 2016 presidential campaign, with hackers gaining access to the email accounts of top DNC officials and then-DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
But FBI agents did not review the servers themselves, according to DNC deputy communications director Eric Walker.
“The DNC had several meetings with" representatives from several federal agencies, "and it responded to a variety of requests for cooperation, but the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers,” Walker wrote in an email to Buzzfeed.
Instead, the bureau relied on a private company, CrowdStrike, to conduct a forensic review of the servers and any traces that might have been left by hackers.
The FBI declined to comment when reached by a Buzzfeed reporter, but the report said sources from three other cybersecurity firms confirmed that the FBI typically does its own forensic review in hacking cases.
It's not clear why the FBI outsourced the work to CrowdStrike, but Walker said he believes the private company shared all of its information with federal agents.
“Beginning at the time the intrusion was discovered by the DNC, the DNC cooperated fully with the FBI and its investigation, providing access to all of the information uncovered by CrowdStrike -- without any limits," Walker wrote.
The news of the FBI's hands-off approach to the server investigation comes amid public disagreements over the source of the hacks.
President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted the hacks did not originate from Russia or the Russian government, while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Fox News' Sean Hannity that the Russians did not provide the hacked documents to his organization.
Their assertions are at odds with other Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, which issued a report in late December blaming Russia for the intrusions. While U.S. intelligence agencies concluded the attacks originated from Russia, there has been disagreement about the motive, with some saying the hackers simply intended to cause chaos in an American election, and others contending the hacks and subsequent leaks were designed to help Trump and damage former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign.
For his part, Trump has said he doesn't believe the latter allegation, a statement echoed by Assange on Jan. 2, when he said critics were using the hacks and "trying to delegitimize the Trump administration as it goes into the White House."
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Trump said on "Fox News Sunday" in mid-December 2016. “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. . . . No, I don’t believe it at all.”
The content of the hacked emails eventually led to Wasserman-Schultz stepping down from her leadership post at the end of the party's 2016 convention in late July. The emails revealed Wasserman-Schultz and other DNC officials worked to promote Clinton's campaign while impeding the campaign of her primary rival, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.