The FBI on Wednesday pushed back against a right-wing report that had been promoted by President Donald Trump only hours earlier. The story claimed that a Chinese-owned firm operating in Virginia had hacked a private email server owned by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"The FBI has not found any evidence the (Clinton) servers were compromised," a bureau official told NBC News.
The statement came in response to a report published Tuesday evening by The Daily Caller, a right-leaning news website, which claimed that an unnamed firm, working as a front for the Chinese government, had obtained "nearly all" of Clinton's emails from the server during her tenure as secretary of state.
The information in the report was attributed to two anonymous sources, and was subsequently picked up by TV hosts on the right-leaning Fox News Channel on Tuesday night. This may have been where Trump first learned of the report, which prompted the president to demand that the Justice Department further investigate Clinton.
"Report just out: 'China hacked Hillary Clinton's private Email Server,'" Trump wrote. "Are they sure it wasn't Russia (just kidding!)? What are the odds that the FBI and DOJ are right on top of this? Actually, a very big story. Much classified information!"
Hours after Trump tweeted The Daily Caller's story, which relied entirely on anonymous sources, the president had soured on the use of such sources.
"The fact is that many anonymous sources don't even exist. They are fiction made up by the Fake News reporters," Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning.
The response from the FBI on Wednesday was merely the latest in a string of events that have pushed the president and his own Justice Department further and further apart in recent months. Trump has repeatedly signaled that he would like to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, most recently in early August, when the president reportedly discussed firing Sessions with his personal criminal attorneys.
The Daily Caller's story appears to have originated not with the Justice Department, but from a claim by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who said during a July House committee hearing that virtually all of Clinton's emails had been obtained by a "foreign entity." The source of his knowledge, Gohmert said, was a report produced by the Intelligence Community Inspector General, a CIA watchdog agency.
The Daily Caller did not confirm the existence of such a report, instead citing an anonymous former intelligence officer who it said had been briefed on what the ICIG report contained.
In pushing back on the Daily Caller's story, however, the FBI on Wednesday pointed to its own report, issued by the Justice Department Inspector General in June. That report said the "FBI investigation and its forensic analysis did not find evidence that Clinton's email server systems were compromised."
Despite a lack of evidence that Clinton's server had been breached, the Justice Department report acknowledged that there was no way of knowing "100%" whether the servers had been accessed by hackers who expertly covered their tracks.
Still, a forensic specialist with the FBI who was quoted in the report said he was "fairly confident that there wasn't an intrusion."