Trump and “the Server”

POTUS believes, and is propagating, a conspiracy theory.

One of the disturbing elements of the current impeachment saga is the fact that the President of the United States appears to be guided by a debunked (and, indeed, nonsensical) conspiracy theory about a piece of computer hardware. Or, he is deliberating spreading lies that he knows to be untrue–which is just as bad.

I tend to think he actually believes this nonsense because if conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 elections were true it would remover the taint of Russia’s interference on his behalf (and would further undercut the Mueller Report).

Ok, so what am I talking about here? During the 2016 campaign the DNC computer systems were hacked. The DNC hired a consulting firm, Crowdstrike, to investigate the hack, which eventually included the FBI. As is standard practice, the DNC provided the FBI with copies of the needed data from their system. They did turn over the hardware.

It should be noted that the investigation lead to formal charges being filed against Russian nationals connected to the Russia intelligence services. All credible information links these hacks to the Russians.

Nevertheless, there is a conspiracy theory in some right-wing circles (propagated by sites like Breitbart and the Daily Caller, among others) that Ukraine framed Russia and somehow the evidence of this is one “the server” which was whisked away to hid in Ukraine (for reasons I have never seen explained).

The most important subscribed to this theory is Donald J. Trump and one of the things that he has asked Ukraine to do relates to this mythical server.

From the now infamous July 25 call, Trump says the following to Zelensky

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. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation.

This is all nonsense. First, it should be a tell that a person really has nothing concrete when the basis for a claim is “they say…”. Trump frequently relies on this rhetorical device.

Second, “I guess one of your wealthy people” is nonsense based on the notion that one of the co-founders of Crowdstrike is Ukrainian. He isn’t, but the notion that he is is central to the theory. In fact, he is of Russia birth and a US citizen. This part of Trump’s theory is simply not true.

Third, the notion that “Ukraine has it” (the server) is nonsensical. Not only was there no single server (there were actually more than 140*), it makes zero sense that anyone would have taken an item that had damning evidence on it out of the country for safekeeping. For one thing, trying to move an object internationally would have increased the chances of it being found by authorities, but more importantly, if this alleged singular server was that damning a piece of evidence, why not just destroy it? Pound to pieces with a sledgehammer, melt it in a foundry, blow it up with c4, sink it in one of the Great Lakes. There is no reason, save for the perverse logic of conspiracy theories, to spirit the thing to Ukraine.

Trump shared a more detailed version of this tale on Fox & Friends last week:

Donald Trump: (06:02)
It’s very interesting. They have the server, right, from the DNC, Democratic National Committee-

Brian Kilmeade: (06:07)
Who has the server?

Donald Trump: (06:09)
The FBI went in and they told them, “Get out of here. We’re not giving it to you.” They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it’s called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian. And I still want to see that server. The FBI has never gotten that server. That’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company? Why-

This is just nonsense. The FBI did not need the physical server. And had they really wanted it, and for some reason the DNC would not release it, the FBI could have gone to court to obtain access (although since the DNC was hacked, they had every reason to cooperate).

Moreover, from Vice‘s Motherboard column:

I called up Thomas Rid, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies to help explain the technical details behind this type of forensic investigation. Rid, who wrote a detailed explanation about why Russia was likely behind the DNC hack for Motherboard in July 2016, told me that “from a forensic point of view, the question of a server at this stage doesn’t make any sense.”

“To really investigate a high profile intrusion like the DNC hack, you have to look beyond the victim network,” Rid said. “You have to look at the infrastructure—the command and control sites that were used to get in that are not going to be on any server … looking at one server is just one isolated piece of infrastructure.”


“To keep it simple, let’s say there’s only one server. CrowdStrike goes in, makes a complete image including a memory dump of everything that was in the memory of the server at the time, including traffic and connections at the time,” Rid said. “You have that image from the machine live in the network including its memory content, versus a server that someone physically carries into the FBI headquarters. It’s unplugged, so there’s no memory content because it’s powered down. That physical piece of hardware is less valuable for an investigation than the onsite image and data extraction from a machine that is up and running. The idea a physical server would add any value doesn’t make any sense.

Emphasis mine.

People calling to see “the server” simply don’t understand how something like this is investigated.

The Motherboard piece continues:

Lesley Carhart, principal threat hunter at the cybersecurity firm Dragos, told Motherboard that physical servers are rarely seized in forensics investigations.

“For decades, it has been industry-standard forensic and digital evidence handling practice to conduct analysis on forensic images instead of original evidence,” she said. “This decreases the risk of corruption or accidental modification of that evidence.”

I asked Rid if he thought it was suspicious that the DNC did not hand over the actual server to the FBI, and he said “no, not at all.”

Emphasis mine.

Beyond the issue of the server, in regards to the theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, hacked the server, it is worth noting that the Trump Department of Justice indicted 12 Russians for the hack:

The Department of Justice today announced that a grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s Office. The indictment charges twelve Russian nationals for committing federal crimes that were intended to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. All twelve defendants are members of the GRU, a Russian Federation intelligence agency within the Main Intelligence Directorate of  the Russian military. These GRU officers, in their official capacities, engaged in a sustained effort to hack into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, and released that information on the internet under the names “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0” and through another entity.


In 2016, officials in Unit 26165 began spearphishing volunteers and employees of the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, including the campaign’s chairman. Through that process, officials in this unit were able to steal the usernames and passwords for numerous individuals and use those credentials to steal email content and hack into other computers. They also were able to hack into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) through these spearphishing techniques to steal emails and documents, covertly monitor the computer activity of dozens of employees, and implant hundreds of files of malicious computer code to steal passwords and maintain access to these networks.

And, it should be noted, members of his own administration tried to tell Trump that these theories were nonsense:

Thomas P. Bossert, who served as Mr. Trump’s first homeland security adviser, said he told the president there was no basis to the theory that Ukraine, not Russia, intervened in the 2016 election and did so on behalf of the Democrats.


“It is completely debunked,” Mr. Bossert said of the Ukraine theory on ABC. Speaking with George Stephanopoulos, Mr. Bossert blamed Mr. Giuliani for filling the president’s head with misinformation. “I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again, and for clarity here, George, let me just again repeat that it has no validity.”


Other former aides said separately on Sunday that the president had a particular weakness for conspiracy theories involving Ukraine, which in the past three years has become the focus of far-right media outlets and political figures. Mr. Trump was more willing to listen to outside advisers like Mr. Giuliani than his own national security team.

Source: “Trump Was Repeatedly Warned That Ukraine Conspiracy Theory Was ‘Completely Debunked’The New York Times

Emphasis mine.

I would note that until July, that national security team included Dr. Fiona Hill, who called these speculations about Ukraine to be “fiction” and the product of Russian propaganda efforts.

Indeed, let me end on a quote from last week:

“Thank God, no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore; now they’re accusing Ukraine.”-Vladimir Putin, President of Russia.

When it comes to this whole Crowdstrike/DNC server business either Trump believes a debunked theory, that he has been told is false, or he is purposefully propagating a lie for political reasons. Neither is defensible.

*According to a report in Wired, “the DNC had to “decommission more than 140 servers, remove and reinstall all software, including the operating systems, for more than 180 computers, and rebuild at least 11 servers.”” 

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. de stijl says:

    He is pushing it because it removes the taint that Putin’s Russia helped him. It doesn’t matter that it is ludicrous and
    demonstrably untrue. All that matters is that it is now forcefully contended and must be addressed.

    Roy Cohn tactics.

    Insert random assertions that must be perpetually batted down every news cycle. Aggressive confusion and diversion.

  2. @de stijl: Roy Cohn, indeed.

  3. de stijl says:

    Cohn wasn’t dumb enough to believe his bs, he just had to pretend he believed it on camera.

    Trump actually believes Ukraine was the bad guy because he is preternaturally abjectly predisposed to people who flatter his ego. Orban and Putin slagged Ukraine, they like me, so they are truthtellers.

    Trump wholeheartedly believes his own bs.

  4. CSK says:

    Trump seems to be more obsessed with “the server” than he is with the Bidens.

  5. al Ameda says:


    The server, they say Ukraine has it

    ‘they say’ …. as in ‘they say’ that Trump has sex with underage Russian girls.

    You know … ‘they say’… Sometimes it sounds like Trump is concerned that his conversations are being monitored or surveilled by law enforcement authorities.

    Honestly, this is exactly what a Gotti Administration would have looked like.

  6. Kathy says:

    What helps Trump is his deplorables need no evidence or thought to believe him implicitly.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Imagine being Impeached for something that is the equivalent of bribing someone to provide proof that Mermaids exist.
    Then imagine a major American Political Party jumping to defend your Mermaid theory. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.);

    “I don’t know nor do you, nor do any of us”

    The Republican Party has become a group of old white pathetic fools.

  8. KM says:

    Look, he’s a crazy old man who’s only understanding of tech is how to tweet. It fools people into thinking he’s more with the times then he really is. Seriously, have you ever seen him use a computer or anything more advanced then a TV on camera? Trump is low-tech AF. He famously watches TV but I bet he has zero idea how to use something like Chromecast or access the features of a smart TV. It turns on to FOX, that’s all he needs. He tweets but what other apps does he use, what other functions can he demonstrate? He can yell at someone on his cell with his mouth or his thumbs, what else does he need? He’s a 50’s guy a month away for 2020 and it shows.

    He’s very much a product of his times. He doesn’t really *get* all this egg-head talk about clouds and storage and internets. A server he understands because it’s physical like his phone. Concrete. When he was ranting about her emails, he always spoke about them like they were something you could touch – “where’s the emails? Lock ‘er up because she lost / hid emails!” Not deleted or erased – lost, which implies a physical, movable presence. He might honestly think there’s a big piece of machinery that has incriminating stuff on it that managed to get halfway around the world god only knows how just to ruin his day.

  9. al Ameda says:


    Look, he’s a crazy old man who’s only understanding of tech is how to tweet. It fools people into thinking he’s more with the times then he really is. Seriously, have you ever seen him use a computer or anything more advanced then a TV on camera? Trump is low-tech AF.

    Understand your point, hvowever, I think that is where most of the public is – low-tech AF.

  10. CSK says:

    @KM: Actually, I’m amazed he can handle a smart phone. But I’m convinced he does his own Tweeting because the spelling, punctuation, and syntax of the Tweets is so abysmal.

  11. de stijl says:



    Knocking down the notion that Russia elected Trump has more psychological urgency to him than does trashing Biden.

    The brain does like removing dissonance.

    If Ukraine did it, it means he is free of that thing that hurt to think about in any detail.

  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    Steven, I want to thank you for putting this all together. Being a tech guy, it was obvious foolishness, but I never bothered to look into it, and you have, revealing just how dumb the whole thing is.

    I think that Trump’s core audience – white guys over 50 – is also pretty low-tech (yeah, I’m a big exception to that). So this works great for them.

  13. de stijl says:


    America’s RW uncle got a Twitter account.

    And then got elected President.

    This is the dystopian nightmare.

  14. David M says:

    @de stijl:

    or as I like to call him, President YouTube Comment

  15. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    It’s possible, but wouldn’t then that mean he’s spreading his legs for Vladimir because he wants to?

    I know he does. It’s obvious, and it goes beyond Vladimir and Xi and Edrogan, and the bearded mullahs, and the hot Saudi butcher boy, etc. But why would he admit to it.

  16. CSK says:

    @de stijl: I agree, but I also think that Trump regards Biden as the only true threat to his re-election.

  17. Kari Q says:


    Because he thinks he looks tough because he’s hanging out with the tough guys of the world?

    No one is more servile than a bully who runs into a tougher bully.

  18. MarkedMan says:

    To talk about “belief” when it comes to Trump or his minions, such as our resident Trumpers, is just a confused mess. Trump and his ilk don’t have beliefs as normal people think of them. They don’t have any sense of what truth or reality is but instead simply mouth things that sound good to them.

  19. de stijl says:


    Which further reveals his idiocy.

    I am as likely as Joe to be the nominee. We both max out at zero percent.

    Trump is going down because he threw everything at Joe friggin Biden.

    He wasted his presidency. On Biden.

    America’s RW uncle with a Twitter account is thankfully a strategic idiot.

  20. Kurtz says:


    some publication, early in Trump’s term, was trying to figure out the tells that indicated whether he tweeted something himself or if a staffer did it for him.

  21. de stijl says:


    If it is grammatically correct, Trump did not write it.

    That’s a simple rule.

  22. CSK says:

    @Kurtz: @de stijl: Yep.

  23. de stijl says:

    Trump shot his whole quiver at Biden. Astonishing even for him.

  24. Jen says:


    It fools people into thinking he’s more with the times then he really is. Seriously, have you ever seen him use a computer or anything more advanced then a TV on camera?

    He has staff print out copies of flattering tweets, and Breitbart articles, etc. He has absolutely no clue whatsoever.

    Our president is dumb. Flat-out dumb.

  25. CSK says:

    @de stijl: Sure. Because he’s an idiot. But we already knew that.

  26. de stijl says:

    China is going to eat our lunch if we don’t get serious.

    We’re probably effed anyway. They have the pops and a rapidly expanding economy.

    Governing ethics are our strength and we are pissing them away daily.

  27. gVOR08 says:

    I’m sorry, any sentence that says “Trump believes” is a category error. Trump will say whatever he thinks he can get away with that will help Trump. Believe/don’t believe, true/false simply don’t enter into it. He believed “the server” would generate confusion. He believed his base would believe it. He probably believed he could get Zelinsky to say Ukraine was investigating, maybe even gin up some false evidence. That’s the extent of what he “believes”.

  28. @Jen:

    Our president is dumb. Flat-out dumb.

    I agree, but he also has a genius for manipulation. It is pretty remarkable, actually.

  29. @Jay L Gischer: Thanks.

    I knew it was all nonsense from the word go, but needed to map it all out for myself, and hence the post.

  30. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I want to work the term idiot-savant into “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

    But what the Trump era reminds me of is a story by Cyril Kornbluth called “The Marching Morons.” Except the eponymous morons in the story were not mean-spirited jerks.

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @al Ameda: Yes, but a Gotti administration would have been able to run the country better and wouldn’t have settled for the chump change levels of graft that Trump has settled for. He isn’t even getting the all the change lost in the sofa. Organized crime embezzled more money (constant dollars) from the Teamster pension in the 70s than Trump has been able to cage. It’s f’ing embarassing!

  32. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I agree, but he also has a genius for manipulation. It is pretty remarkable, actually.

    True. But you have to give the Republican Party and Rupert Murdoch a lot of credit for preparing the ground.

  33. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I don’t for a second believe he believes this conspiracy theory. What he does believe, and for good reason, is that Russian interference in the 2016 election gifted him his victory. If so, everything that follows is illegitimate. Even his lizard brain can grasp that simple deduction. Ergo, he has to do everything he can to discredit that reality.

    Because, he is the “chosen one”.

  34. @gVOR08:

    But you have to give the Republican Party and Rupert Murdoch a lot of credit for preparing the ground.


    But in all seriousness, he does have certain gift for the grift. It was evident in his business dealings and is clear in his presidency. I am serious when I say that he has a certain genius in that realm.

  35. @OzarkHillbilly: I think he actually believes a huge amount of what he hears on TV.

  36. MarkedMan says:


    reminds me of is a story by Cyril Kornbluth called “The Marching Morons.”

    Recently I made the mistake of rereading that story for the first time in 45 years. It does not age well. Eugenics style racism

  37. Senyordave says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: IMO Trump is a savant con man. Normally, successful con men are more intelligent than Trump. His genius is that he finds people who continue to be conned by him even after they can clearly see that he played them for fools.
    I also think he has a lack of morals that is stunning even for a con man. He’s a blatant thief, a serial sexual molester who has been credibly accused of rape, and a man who is ready and willing to sell out his country.

  38. de stijl says:

    Stockholm syndrome + tribalism

  39. Kathy says:


    Oh, it doesn’t age well at all. also not Kornbluth’s best work. “The Little Black Bag,” which is set in the same story universe, is much better, even if you can see the ending coming a mile away.

  40. de stijl says:

    Why would anyone trust us?

    Since Reagan half the people we elect do super sketchy stuff for short-term partisan internal gain.

    We have pissed away any goodwill we once possessed.

    There is a reason that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize when he did, even it was manifestly undeserved. The world wanted us to behave better than we had done recently, and rewarded one who wanted to do so.

    There is a lesson in that.

  41. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Our president is dumb. Flat-out dumb.

    I agree, but he also has a genius for manipulation. It is pretty remarkable, actually.

    Well, wait, not so remarkable, really… I would not say that those two things are mutually excusive.

    For example, when I was younger, I was an phenomonally great alcoholic. Now, to be a hardcore practicing alcoholic in high school, college and getting started in business… You have to be really great at planning, plotting, manipulation and misdirection.

    One foot is always in the fire, while the other is on the run. Understanding the rules just meant that you could ALWAYS find a way for them to be to your benefit.

    And now, many MANY years removed from all that, there is always to look at thinks from a slightly skewed perspective. And teh edge is still great fun.

    Now, think about it…

    George W – Doesn’t drink.

    Trump – Doesn’t drink.

    Coincidence? Conspiracy Theory?

  42. mike shupp says:

    @KM: You just have to feel sorry for the poor old guy — Hillary had so much fun with her server, why can’t he have one?

  43. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    When I said “Conjecture” I meant me not you.

    As in, after when I said that I was conjecturing.

  44. DrDaveT says:


    “The Little Black Bag,” which is set in the same story universe, is much better

    Indeed. Also the novel The Space Merchants (with Frederik Pohl).

  45. de stijl says:

    Who played Cohn in Angels in America?

    Pacino in the HBO version.

  46. de stijl says:

    Eff me. Superchunk were so bad-ass.

    I found them at First Ave. Never heard or seen them before. They were opening for somebody, no clue who.

    I was chilling in the bar downstairs left of the stage. Having a beer chatting with friends waiting for the show, and this great resonding din arose.

    It was Skip Steps 1 & 3. I popped up onto the main floor. It was glorious. I was glued there for there whole show.

    I have no idea who the headliner was. Literally cannot recall. I was just blown away by Superchunk. Wow, wow, wow! One of the best sets I’d ever seen.

    After I figured out Superchunk, I also found Archers Of Loaf later.

    One of the best times of my life.

  47. de stijl says:

    I have never been so taken up out of the blue before as with Superchunk. Every other transformative experience was with songs I’d already heard. Husker du, LCD Soundsystem, Sugar (crikey that was awesome so loud my innards throbbed resonantly, the Replacements, a band you’ve never heard of called The Suburbs.

    Every big band that I’d built up in my head disappointed. The out of left field unexpected, the scrappy underdogs – they I remember and savor the memory. I love the Psychedelic Furs. Forever Now is best song. Live, they were total crap. Everyone sat. Zero energy. It was like watching a copy of a copy of a copy.

    The Clash. Shit, I’d have preferred a cover band. That was a shamefully bad experience. I did meet a new girlfriend there though.

    I can’t remember a big ass band ever transporting me.

    Ah! First time I saw Har Mar Superstar, that was cool. Come in blind with no expectations and they bang your socks off.

  48. RWB says:

    Here is what I do not understand. The conspiracy theory goes that Ukraine worked against Trump to get Hillary elected. So they hack the DNC and blame it on Russia, and send the server to Ukraine to hide the fact. But how did releasing the emails that pissed off Bernie followers, and made many of them not vote, or vote for, Trump help Hilary?

  49. de stijl says:


    You are thinking too hard.

    Just remember CrowdStrike, Shokin, Biden, and “corruption”. Oh, and “the server.”

    Just string ’em together.

    It should make sense now. I know, it really doesn’t, but just think good thoughts and click your heels together.

    I like how Rs are piecing together a super complex scenario that the minions can’t remember.

    Totally gonna work.

    Everyone thinks they are geniuses at this messaging and forgets how hard privatization of Social Security failed.

  50. Ken_L says:

    All very plausible, “Professor” Taylor. But then how do you explain the server was positively identified last week by three separate Ukrainian sources who spoke on condition of anonymity? Apparently it’s in a pawn shop, disguised as a microwave oven.

  51. JohnSF says:

    @de stijl:

    I saw the Clash live May 1982 IIRC; I thought they were pretty impressive.
    But then, I’m easily pleased 🙂

  52. de stijl says:


    Must have been same tour. They were flogging Combat Rock which was face it, crap in a sack.

    I hated it, but that was kinda my fault. I wanted 1977 Clash. Stupid rookie move. Your beloved change.

    I was never going to get the 1977 Clash experience. I was a damn fool for expecting anything more than a cash grab arena tour.

    I did meet a great person that night though and we became more than later. For a few years. Bad show, but good night. She was a really good person. That was a really great time with her.

    I was falling out of love with The Clash even with London Calling. I was such a know it all young snotty idiot.

    The Psychedelic Furs were so bad. I was a fan from so way back when. First album, etc all the cliches.

    It was utter garbage live.

    Again, Forever Now possibly best song ever.

    They sat on chairs the entire show.

    Still love the songs.

  53. de stijl says:

    I like Roddy Frame, Aztec Camera, and Mick Jones’s Good Morning Britain. Always cottoned to Jones over Strummer. Can’t say why it just was.

  54. MarkedMan says:

    @Ken_L: Well played sir! “Ken L” indeed. And the concept of people “identifying a server”! “Yes, your honor, that is the specific CPU ithat hosted the DNC database. I would recognize it amongst the other CPUs on the blade and in a server room full of identical rack units. It bumped. Into me and I got a good look.” You are guaranteed to start a chain of replies at least a dozen long.

  55. de stijl says:


    How do we know he is a actually a professor? This could be a long con bust.

    Scramble, people, disperse!

  56. Moosebreath says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    “Now, think about it…

    George W – Doesn’t drink.

    Trump – Doesn’t drink.

    Coincidence? Conspiracy Theory?”

    Sounds related to Mel Brooks’s theory that Presidents who don’t do it to women outside of marriage do it to the country.

  57. Kathy says:


    For some reason, that one seldom makes the list of dark and depressing dystopians. Maybe because it’s a capitalist dystopia?

  58. wr says:

    @de stijl: “Who played Cohn in Angels in America?”

    Nathan Lane when I saw it on Broadway a year or two ago…

  59. de stijl says:


    Interesting casting. I hope he did it well.