December 2015: The FBI warns the DNC (Democratic National Committee) that it is a target of a hacker attack.

According to a July 2016 Yahoo News article, the FBI contacts the DNC in late 2015 and tells their IT (information technology) staffers that there has been a hacking attack on the DNC’s computer network. The FBI provides no details, such as who the hackers might be.

It will later be discovered that a hacker broke into the DNC network in the summer of 2015. Despite the FBI warning, the hacker won’t be ejected from the network until around June 2016. (Yahoo News, 7/29/2016)

Late April 2016—Early May, 2016: Hacking attacks on a DNC consultant researching pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine lead DNC leaders to conclude the Russian government is behind such attacks.

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Alexandra Chalupa (Credit: Linked In)

Alexandra Chalupa, a consultant for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), has been working for several weeks on an opposition research file about Paul Manafort, the campaign manager of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Manafort has a long history of advising politicians around the world, including controversial dictators. Logging into her Yahoo email account, she gets a warning entitled “Important action required” from a Yahoo cybersecurity team. The warning adds, “We strongly suspect that your account has been the target of state-sponsored actors.”

Paul Manafort (Credit: Linked In)

Paul Manafort (Credit: Linked In)

Paul Manafort was a key adviser to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2004 until 2010. Yanukovych is a controversial figure frequently accused of widespread corruption and was overthrown after a massive series of protests in February 2014, and has since been living in Russia, protected by the Russian government. Chalupa had been drafting memos and writing emails about Manafort’s link to pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders such as Yanukovych when she got the warning. She had been in contact with investigative journalists in Ukraine who had been giving her information about Manafort’s ties there.

Chalupa immediately alerts top DNC officials. But more warnings from Yahoo’s security team follows. On May 3, 2016, she writes in an email to DNC communications director Luis Miranda, “Since I started digging into Manafort, these messages have been a daily occurrence on my Yahoo account despite changing my password often.”

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A photo capture of the Yahoo security warning appearing on DNC consultant Alexandra Chalupa’s computer screen. (Credit: Yahoo News)

In July 2016, she will tell Yahoo News, “I was freaked out,” and “This is really scary.” Her email message to Miranda will later be one of 20,000 emails released by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016, showing that there was good reason to be concerned about hacking attempts.

Chalupa’s email to Miranda, results in concern amongst top level DNC officials. One unnamed insider will later say. “That’s when we knew it was the Russians,” since Russia would be very interested in Chalupa’s research and other countries like China would not. This source also says that as a precaution, “we told her to stop her research.”

Yahoo will later confirm that it did send numerous warnings to Chalupa, and one Yahoo security official will say, “Rest assured we only send these notifications of suspected attacks by state-sponsored actors when we have a high degree of confidence.” (Yahoo News, 7/25/2016)

July 25, 2016: Democratic Party officials believe recent hacks are “far more widespread than initially thought.”

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Sample of DNC spreadsheet released by Wikileaks, titled “Boards and Commissions” listing generous DNC donors who are being considered for appointments to various Boards and Commissions. Donor email addresses and phone numbers were blacked out by thompsontimeline. (Credit: Wikileaks)

Yahoo News reports about the series of hacking attacks targeting the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Clinton campaign, and other US political targets starting in the summer of 2015 and continuing until at least June 2016. “Two sources familiar with the [DNC] breach said that the hackers’ reach was far more widespread than initially thought and includes personal data about big party contributors and internal ‘vetting’ evaluations that include embarrassing comments about their business dealings (as well as gossipy internal emails about the private affairs of DNC staffers). … Party officials are bracing for more damaging document dumps after Labor Day [September 7, 2016]. ‘They’re having to do serious damage control with the donors right now,’ said a party official familiar with the matter.”

Additionally, Yahoo News mentions, “There are also signs that the hackers have penetrated the personal email of some Clinton campaign staffers — at least those who were in communication with senior DNC staff members.” (Yahoo News, 7/25/2016)

July 28, 2016: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper shows reluctance to blame Russia for recent hacks on US political entities.

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (Credit: public domain)

Clapper says the US government is not “quite ready yet” to “make a public call” about who is responsible for the hacking on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) computer network that resulted in almost 20,000 emails being released by WikiLeaks. However, he hints that one of “the usual suspects” is likely to blame. He also says, “We don’t know enough [yet] to … ascribe a motivation, regardless of who it may have been.”

Yahoo News reports that there is a vigorous debate inside the Obama administration about whether to publicly blame the Russian government for the hacking. One unnamed senior law enforcement official says the Russians are “most probably” involved, but investigation is ongoing.

Clapper is said to be amongst a faction who is resisting publicly blaming the Russians, since it is the kind of activity that intelligence agencies regularly engage in, including the US at times. Clapper also publicly comments, “[I’m] taken aback a bit by … the hyperventilation over this,” He adds in a sarcastic tone, “I’m shocked somebody did some hacking. That’s never happened before.” (Yahoo News, 7/29/2016)

October 27, 2016: Comey is briefed and decides to announce the reopening of the FBI’s Clinton email investigation, but Justice Department officials are strongly opposed.

Abedin and Weiner leave their home separately, the day before the sexting scandal broke in September, 2016. (Credit: The Daily Mail)

Abedin and Weiner leave their home separately, the day before the sexting scandal broke in September, 2016. (Credit: The Daily Mail)

In early October 2016, FBI agents discovered 650,000 emails on a computer owned by Anthony Weiner, the husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Though the agents were investigating Weiner for something unrelated, they eventually brief FBI agents who had worked on the recently closed FBI Clinton email investigation, and those agents say they would like to have the legal permission to look at the emails themselves.

Apparently, FBI Director James Comey first learns about the emails in mid-October 2016. Then he is given an updated briefing about it on this day. He decides he should immediately inform Congress about the development, even though the 2016 US presidential election is less than two weeks away. He does so in a letter sent one day later, which immediately becomes public.

However, Justice Department officials are opposed. According to the New York Times, “Senior Justice Department officials did not move to stop him from sending the letter, officials said, but they did everything short of it, pointing to policies against talking about current criminal investigations or being seen as meddling in elections.”

James Comey (Credit: Getty Images)

James Comey (Credit: Getty Images)

According to the Times, Comey decides to write his letter “before agents even began reading the newly discovered emails to determine whether they contained classified information or added new facts to the case.” This puzzles Justice Department officials. Apparently, some agents were only able to analyze the metadata.

It has long been Justice Department and FBI policy that politics should play no role in any investigative decisions. This is particularly emphasized for any actions taken within 60 days prior to an election. (The New York Times, 10/29/2016)

One unnamed “US official familiar with the matter” tells Yahoo News that senior officials “strongly discouraged” Comey from sending the letter, due to that department policy, adding, “He was acting independently of the guidance given to him.” One government source says that high-ranking Justice Department officials are “apoplectic” about the letter.

However, after listening to the Justice Department’s concerns, Comey concludes that the ramifications of not telling Congress promptly about the new emails far outweigh concerns about the department guidelines. He fears if he doesn’t immediately alert Congress, the FBI’s work will leak to the media and he will be accused of concealing information. If the news comes out before the election, he will be accused of trying to influence the election one way, but if it comes out after the election, he will be accused of trying to influence it the other way. One unnamed senior official says, “This was the least bad choice.”

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George J. Terwilliger III (Credit: McGuire Woods)

Many will criticize Comey for the letter, including some Republicans. For instance, George J. Terwilliger III, a deputy attorney general under President George Bush (R), says, “There’s a longstanding policy of not doing anything that could influence an election. Those guidelines exist for a reason. Sometimes, that makes for hard decisions. But bypassing them has consequences. There’s a difference between being independent and flying solo.” (The New York Times, 10/29/2016) (Yahoo News, 10/29/2016)

Politico reports that according to an unnamed “official familiar with the discussions,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch does not speak directly with Comey about the issue. However, her concerns are conveyed to him before he sends the letter. In late June 2016, Lynch pledged to recuse herself from the email investigation after she was seen having a private discussion with Bill Clinton. (Politico, 10/31/2016)