A previously debunked claim alleging then-candidate Donald Trump ran a “secret server” to communicate with Russia during the 2016 presidential race has resurfaced.
After President Trump on Saturday accused his predecessor, President Barack Obama, of illegally wiretapping phone calls at New York’s Trump Tower, media outlets began to list possible surveillance targets – including the purported secret server.
The original claim, first published by Slate in November of last year, asserted the server in question was mysteriously communicating with Russia’s Alfa Bank.
The report quickly spread online, receiving nearly a quarter-million Facebook shares and a tweet by then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“It’s time for Trump to answer serious questions about his ties to Russia,” Clinton said.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 31, 2016
Soon after, numerous journalists, including The Intercept’s Sam Biddle, stated that “at least five outlets including The Intercept have been looking at this for weeks and decided it didn’t add up.”
Organizations who examined the allegations and turned down the story at the time included The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Beast, Vice and Reuters.
Now, in an article published by the New York Times Sunday, entitled, “What Can Be Gleaned From Trump’s Allegations of Wiretapping,” the server story has once again appeared.
Not only does the reporting give the allegations of wrongdoing a false sense of legitimacy, specific claims are issued that the server itself was located in Trump Tower.
Analysis by numerous cybersecurity experts has revealed several key points that contradict nearly every aspect of the server story.
As reported by Errata Security’s Robert Graham last November, all evidence shows that Trump neither controls the domain, “trump-email.com,” nor has access to the server.
While the WHOIS information displays the Trump Organization as the registrant, the server itself was originally set up by hotel marketing company Cendyn – which tasked another company known as Listrak, who controls the actual server in Philadelphia, with sending out promotional hotel emails. Cendyn similarly own domains for other hotel chains including Hyatt and Sheraton.
“The evidence available on the Internet is that Trump neither (directly) controls the domain ‘trump-email.com,’ nor has access to the server,” Graham wrote. “Instead, the domain was setup and controlled by Cendyn, a company that does marketing/promotions for hotels, including many of Trump’s hotels.”
A member of Alfa Bank’s IT team also reportedly confirmed to Graham that its executives often stay at Trump hotels during trips abroad.
“In other words, there’s good reason for the company to get spam from, and need to communicate with, Trump hotels to coordinate events,” Graham added.
A similar report from The Intercept even displayed one of the alleged secret messages – although admittedly from out of the time frame originally in question – revealing the contents to contain, as suspected, hotel marketing material.
Interestingly, it was also The New York Times who reported shortly after the Slate piece that the FBI had found nothing of interest after having the server brought to their attention.
— Mikael Thalen (@MikaelThalen) November 1, 2016
The story has also caused conspiracy theories to reemerge that claimed the server was set up by the CIA in order to frame Trump. Those allegations, stemming from online message boards, pointed to the registrant email, “firstname.lastname@example.org,” as proof that Evan McMullin – a Trump critic and former CIA operative – was responsible.
The registrant email, as shown in the WHOIS data, clearly belongs to female Cendyn employee Emily McMullin. Although further attempts have been made to bolster the theory by showing photos of Evan with a woman named Emily, photos of Cendyn’s Emily McMullin prove they are not the same person.
While the server was investigated by the FBI to some extent, claims that the server was located in Trump Tower, among others, are provably false.