Depending on one's partisan point-of-view, rightly or wrongly, FBI Director Comey can be seen as either a hero or a scapegoat of the November election.
The FBI Director's recommendation that Hillary Clinton not be indicted, and his subsequent announcement that her email case be re-opened just a week before the election, made him a fall guy for the argument the FBI spoiled her chances.
Critics of this narrative make the counter-argument that perhaps Hillary Clinton shouldn't have used a private email server with lax security, instead of government-secured communications readily available to transmit classified information.
Regardless, the FBI Director made an announcement on Tuesday about the scurrilous DNC and Clinton campaign emails that found their way into the public sphere via WikiLeaks.
Fox News reported what Comey revealed to the press:
FBI Director James Comey acknowledged Tuesday that his agency failed to get access to Democratic National Committee servers and the smartphone of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman allegedly hacked by Russia in the 2016 presidential race.
Thousands of emails from the servers and Chairman John Podesta’s device were stolen, then made public during the race, which Clinton lost to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the FBI’s repeated requests for access to the devices were denied. So the agency instead had to rely on the findings of a “highly respected private company,” Comey said.
Crowdstrike, one of the companies contracted by the DNC, came to the conclusion that Russian hackers had carried out a phishing assault. However, subsequent analysis from tech professional company Wordfence found the PHP malware plug-in was based on outdated Ukrainian code, not sophisticated Russian code.
Comey said at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday that FBI investigators would have preferred to have gotten direct access to the hardware and software in question themselves.
“Our forensics folks would always prefer to get access to the original device or server involved,” Comey said.
Interestingly, RNC Chief Strategist and Communications Director Sean Spicer, who was tapped to be The White House Press Secretary and Communications Director in the incoming Trump administration, told CNN in December that the RNC allowed the FBI access to its servers, and it was cleared of any suspected hacking.
In addition, Spicer claimed that the RNC had offered The New York Times access to its servers, but it declined. He argued that the Times potentially clearing the RNC didn't fit the publication's “narrative.”
This is relevant because the argument has been made that Russian hackers must have been able to get access to both DNC and RNC emails, and chose to selectively release emails only on the DNC in order to specifically harm Hillary Clinton's election chances.
On Tuesday, Comey stated that hackers were able to attain only “older” RNC emails. As Wired wrote:
Comey noted that spear-phishing, a tactic of targeting carefully spoofed emails to trick victims into giving up sensitive credentials or passwords, was “no doubt” used against the Republicans, just as it was used against the Democrats. He later added that he didn’t know whether the hackers had attempted intrusions on the RNC’s newer communications or the Trump campaign, and also didn’t say how old the stolen emails were.
That Russian hackers did penetrate some Republican servers but never leaked that information was one factor that led US intelligence agencies to conclude that the Kremlin’s hacking operation was expressly intended to help elect Donald Trump, according to director of national intelligence James Clapper.
Fox News put Comey's testimony in further context:
Comey acknowledged Tuesday that the Republican National Committee also was hacked but only with “limited penetration.” He also said the hackers gained access only to “old domains.”
He said the investigation also found evidence of “intrusions” on state-level voter databases but no activity was detected on Election Day.
Comey said there was no evidence that the Trump campaign was hacked and that Russia appeared to increase its activity on the Clinton campaign last summer as she increased her temporary lead over Trump.
President-elect Donald Trump has steadfastly denied that his campaign or the RNC were hacked by anyone, including the Russians.
"Somebody hacked the DNC but why did they not have ‘hacking defense’ like the RNC has,” Trump claimed on Twitter, later adding, “Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place. The Republican National Committee had strong defense!”
RNC Chairman Reince Preibus has also claimed that the RNC was never hacked. But one thing is for certain: The DNC denied the FBI's requests for firsthand investigation.
After a hack that threatens election integrity, it's certainly odd that the DNC would turn to a private firm instead of the best investigators in the world. If it's one thing we've come to expect from the Democratic Party, it's a preference for selective transparency.