Did a foreign intelligence service attempt to hack into the Trump Organization? Perhaps, according to this ABC News report, although that may be less interesting than the timing of the FBI’s actions as a result of the threat. When the FBI and CIA identified a potential attack aiming at the businesses of President Donald Trump, they summoned the two men in charge of the family company — Donald Jr and Eric. And that meeting took place the day before their father cashiered the head of the FBI:
The FBI is investigating an attempted overseas cyberattack against the Trump Organization, summoning President Donald Trump’s sons, Don Jr. and Eric, for an emergency session with the bureau’s cybersecurity agents and representatives of the CIA, officials tell ABC News.
Law enforcement officials who spoke to ABC News on the condition of anonymity confirmed the attempted hack and said the subsequent meeting took place at the FBI’s New York headquarters on May 8, the day before Trump fired FBI director James Comey. Spokesmen for the FBI, CIA and Secret Service all declined to comment.
ABC called Eric Trump to confirm the incident, which he declined to do. However, Trump fils denied that they had been hacked, calling it “crazy.” It’s not so crazy, however, to think that the Trump Org would be a target at some point. Intelligence agencies look for personal and business information that they can use to gain leverage on their targets, and Trump pere‘s complicated business dealings could provide a gold mine. ABC also notes that their computer systems might contain more traditional intelligence related to the transition, which would also make an enticing target for that reason and more.
However, a probe into a potential hack of Trump’s computer systems might have also allowed investigators to take a peek around for themselves on other issues. ABC contributor and former FBI official Richard Frankel points this out:
The FBI’s involvement could come with some risks, Frankel said, both for the company and the president. In the course of its investigation, the FBI could get access to the Trump Organization’s computer network, meaning FBI agents could possibly find records connected to other investigations.
“There could be stuff in there that they do not want to become part of a separate criminal investigation,” Frankel said.
The White House has offered a few different reasons for the seemingly sudden decision to fire Comey, some better than others. This could shine a different light on that decision, but in a couple of different ways. If Trump thought he had something to hide in his business records, then perhaps firing Comey would have been an immediate reaction. However, that explanation doesn’t make much sense as the investigations have continued without Comey anyway, and the Russia probes have been ongoing for months.
If, on the other hand, Trump thought that the FBI was trying to back-door him by ginning up a hacking probe as a means to illegitimately gain access to his business operations, it might very well have been a final-straw moment for Trump with Comey. That’s especially possible after seeing what happened to Hillary Clinton when the FBI began investigating Anthony Weiner’s laptop in an unrelated sexting investigation, even if the sudden expansion of that probe worked in Trump’s favor. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what the FBI was doing, of course, but if Trump interpreted it that way, it’s almost certain that he’d take immediate action. The White House’s lack of preparation for Comey’s termination and their struggle to explain it effectively would make a little more sense in that context.
Comey was likely on his way out anyway, and the real reason for it is almost certainly because Trump wanted the FBI to prioritize its search for leakers. Now that the FBI has handed off the Russia probe, they can concentrate on that priority. If anyone has attempted to penetrate the Trump Organization, the Trumps are now on notice, but one suspects they’ve been aware of the value their businesses have as targets all along.