NEW YORK/WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart contained an intriguing, if incomplete, reference to the cybersecurity company Crowdstrike Inc.
It came after Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to “do us a favor.”
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it,” Trump said, according to a memo describing the July 25 call released by the White House. There are ellipses in parts of the transcript, which a U.S. official said doesn’t indicate missing words or phrases. Instead, it represents a voice trailing off or a pause.
While the meaning of Trump’s comments weren’t clear, he appears to be referencing a theory that he and some conservative commentators have espoused that Crowdstrike’s work is biased in favor of Democrats. Trump has complained that a company, Crowdstrike, did the analysis of the Democratic National Committee’s servers after it was hacked in 2016, rather than a law enforcement agency, namely the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Crowdstrike concluded that the DNC’s servers were hacked by Russia. It found that two sophisticated groups had breached the network. Both of them were “believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services,” according to Crowdstrike.
Those findings were eventually supported by congressional committees, the U.S. Department of Justice and special counsel Robert Mueller, despite Trump’s continued skepticism.
In a statement, Crowdstrike, which is based in Sunnyvale, California, said it provided all its forensic evidence and analysis to the FBI regarding its investigation of the DNC hack. “As we’ve stated before, we stand by our findings and conclusions that have been fully supported by the U.S. intelligence community.”
The White House and the National Security Council didn’t immediately comment.
In an April 2017 interview with the Associated Press, Trump stated that Crowdstrike was “owned by a very rich Ukrainian.” At the time, Crowdstrike told Axios they believed the Trump comment was in reference founder and chief technology officer Dmitri Alperovitch, “who is an American citizen of Russian heritage.”
It’s common practice for cybersecurity firms to investigate cases like the DNC hack, according to Austin Berglas, former assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York office cyber branch.
“Companies are much more comfortable with hiring a private firm to do the work. Most organizations don’t want the FBI obtaining copies of internal servers and workstations,” he said. “They prefer to contract with private firms to do the acquisition and forensics — and then approve which data is shared with the FBI to assist with their investigation.”
After mentioning Crowdstrike on the call, Trump immediately made a reference to Mueller’s investigation.
“I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it,” Trump said, according to the memo. “As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
Following the release of the transcript on Wednesday, Trump and Zelenskiy participated in a joint conference at the United Nations in New York. In response to a reporter’s question, Trump said that he believed that emails by his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton could be located in Ukraine.
“I think they could be,” Trump said.