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Photo: Thomas Koehler/Photothek via Getty Images

"Where is the server?" President Trump has repeatedly asked this question — including with Russian president Vladimir Putin today — when discussing the indictment of 12 Russians for hacking the Democratic National Committee and other targets in 2016.

Why it matters: The complaint that the DNC denied the FBI access to its hacked servers is a hallmark of the right's response to the DNC hacking scandal. But people familiar with these kinds of investigations say withholding the server was nothing out of the ordinary.

The backstory: Rather than turn its server over to the FBI, the DNC hired a private security firm, Crowdstrike, to investigate the hacking.

Independent investigations are common: According to the law firm BakerHostetler, well over half of the organizations it advises seek out private investigators to investigate hacks. It’s increasingly common for those investigators to handle the low-level forensic work in place of the FBI.

  • Leo Taddeo, former special agent in charge of the cyber division of the FBI’s New York office, told The Hill: "In nine out of 10 cases, we don't need access, we don't ask for access, we don't get access. That's the normal [procedure]. It's extraordinarily rare for the FBI to get access to the victim's infrastructure because we could mess it up," he added. "We usually ask for the logs and images, and 99 out of a hundred times, that's sufficient.”
  • Beyond the potential for damage, seizing a server can revictimize an organization after a hack. Losing a server can disrupt or even shut down a business or organization.
  • Law enforcement is often happy to let private investigators take on the initial phase of investigative work because it saves time and money.

Another problem with handing over a server: If the FBI mishandles data or, say, leaks it to the press or a political partisan, the organization places itself in jeopardy.

The server is now just a small part of the evidence: One thing clear from the most recent indictment is that the FBI has now amassed significant additional evidence beyond what Crowdstrike could have obtained in its own investigation.

  • Any information dealing with activities or data on other servers — including Russian-affiliated servers in the United States and social media accounts, all of the names and individual actions from specific actors — was obtained separately from the DNC server.
  • Even if you read dark meaning into the DNC's use of Crowdstrike rather than the FBI, at this point, it doesn't matter: Friday's indictments show that the FBI has now pieced together a factual account that renders the whole argument moot.

Go deeper

39 mins ago - World

World leaders react to "new dawn in America" under Biden administration

President Biden reacts delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

World leaders have pledged to work with President Biden on issues including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, with many praising his move to begin the formal process for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

The big picture: Several leaders noted the swift shift from former President Trump's "America First" policy to Biden's action to re-engage with the world and rebuild alliances.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden watch a fireworks show on the National Mall from the Truman Balcony at the White House on Wednesday night. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden signed his first executive orders into law from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening after walking in a brief inaugural parade to the White House with First Lady Jill Biden and members of their family. He was inaugurated with Vice President Kamala Harris at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Many of Biden's day one actions immediately reverse key Trump administration policies, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, launching a racial equity initiative and reversing the Muslim travel ban.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.