FBI probing attempted hack of Trump Organization, officials say
By JOSH MARGOLIN, MATTHEW MOSK and BRIAN ROSS
(ABC News) — 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.
Reached by phone, Eric Trump, an executive vice president of the family company, would not confirm or deny that he and his brother had met with the FBI but told ABC News that the company had ultimately not been infiltrated.
“We absolutely weren’t hacked,” Eric Trump said during the brief call. “That’s crazy. We weren’t hacked, I can tell you that.”
As federal agencies monitor international computer networks in order to protect government and private sector computer infrastructure and data, the Trump Organization’s networks would be given high priority, according to Richard Frankel, a retired senior official with the FBI’s New York office and an ABC News contributor.
“If there was a hack or an attempted hack of … the company that was owned by the president, that would be at the top of the list of investigations,” Frankel said. “If the FBI saw that kind of hack, they’d have to track that. There’s no telling what a hacker could get that’s connected to the president, corporate records, financial records, even things that were going on during the transition.”
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.
In this case, if there had been communication between the Trump Organization and Russian entities, that information might be pertinent to the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. A key focus of that probe is to see whether there was any collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers.
Because the unusual session involved two of the President’s children, agents sent a special alert, or VIP notice, to senior officials at 26 Federal Plaza, the fortress-like headquarters for the FBI’s New York area operations. Officials briefed on the meeting said the discussion centered on a suspected hack of computer systems used by the international real estate holding company, but they did not say who was suspected in the attempted intrusion.
The May 8 meeting came at a tense time for those closest to the president. The FBI was, and still is, in the midst of the widening probe into Russian meddling in 2016 presidential election. A grand jury empaneled in Virginia had issued subpoenas in connection with Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. The session with the president’s sons also occurred the same day former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified on Capitol Hill, and less than a week after Comey himself testified before Congress, officials say.
In addition to the meeting at the FBI’s offices, FBI agents working on the cyber inquiry were also seen at Trump Tower during the week of May 8. Officials who spoke to ABC News would not say whether the subject of Russia’s hack of the 2016 election was raised during the discussions.
Over the past decade, both Don Jr. and Eric made trips to Russia on behalf of the Trump Organization, and both of them have been quoted in the past describing the significant sums coming into the company from Russian sources.
On May 5, golf writer James Dodson told WBUR radio that Eric Trump had bragged to him that Trump golf courses “have all the funding we need out of Russia,” a statement Eric Trump later denied making. In 2008, Don Jr. told investors in Moscow that the Trump Organization had trademarked the Donald Trump name in Russia as “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets … We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” according to an account on the real estate website eTurboNews.
Three weeks before Election Day, Don Jr. was paid $50,000 to travel to Paris to speak at a private dinner in Paris organized by an obscure pro-Russia group that promotes Kremlin foreign policy initiatives and has since nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize.