By Win McNamee/Getty Images.
Despite former F.B.I. director James Comey’s conclusion that the F.B.I. had no basis to bring charges against Hillary Clinton, and despite winning the 2016 election nearly two years ago, it seems Donald Trump is incapable of leaving the former secretary of state’s e-mail server alone. On Tuesday night, he tweeted a new pet theory: “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 F.B.I. and D.O.J. are right on top of this? Actually, a very big story. Much classified information!” In a subsequent tweet, he called for the F.B.I. or the Justice Department to take action, or “their credibility will be forever gone!” The report in question appears to be a story in the Daily Caller, published shortly before Trump’s tweet, in which the right-wing outlet alleges that a Chinese-owned company in the D.C. area was able to hack into Clinton’s private server. Citing “two sources briefed on the matter,” the Daily Caller asserted that this company, which is not named, obtained nearly all of Clinton’s e-mails, and forwarded copies to itself in real time. The story was picked up by Fox News, with one guest on the network calling it a potential “bombshell.”
Intelligence agencies, however, aren’t biting. In a statement released Wednesday, the F.B.I. threw cold water on the president’s latest conspiracy, asserting that it “has not found any evidence the servers were compromised.” Whether Clinton’s servers were hacked in the first place—a popular Trump talking point—is still up for debate. In a report issued in June, the D.O.J.’s inspector general concluded that it was “possible” someone could have gained access to the server, though he “acknowledged that the F.B.I. investigation and its forensic analysis did not find evidence that Clinton’s e-mail server systems were compromised.” In July, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert asserted that the I.G. found that nearly all of Clinton’s e-mails had been sent to a “foreign entity”—a claim that was repeated in the Daily Caller’s story.
Try as Trump might to re-create the e-mail-centric news cycle that helped propel him to victory, cooler heads have prevailed: in November 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against calls to appoint a special counsel to explore the Clinton server matter. And though some have voiced concern over security issues pertaining to China—Chinese telecommunications-equipment manufacturer Huawei has been described by senators attempting to bar Huawei devices from U.S. government offices as “effectively an arm of the Chinese government”—intelligence agencies have repeatedly confirmed it was Russia, not China, that hacked the e-mails of top Democratic officials.
But of course, this is the Trump administration we’re dealing with, where the ties between the executive branch and the rest of the government seem tenuous at best. Over and over again, Trump’s own officials have been forced to refute his harebrained assertions, assuring the public, for example, that Russia’s efforts to meddle in U.S. elections are ongoing, or that the Justice Department, to quote Sessions’s recent statement, will not be “improperly influenced by political considerations.” In some cases, the president’s penchant for conspiracies has infected his staffers, spurring them to concoct their own treatises in his image. But more than anything else, the F.B.I.’s tweet reaffirms that Trump is operating outside of, and separate from, the government he ostensibly leads, increasingly sequestered within his own administration.