A Republican activist who sought Hillary Clinton’s emails from Russian hackers in the lead-up to last year’s presidential election had named alleged links to several members of Donald Trump’s campaign, some of whom now work in the White House.
The intriguing revelation was published in two investigative stories by The Wall Street Journal late this week, and then confirmed in a blog by one of the stories’ sources, titled, “The Time I Got Recruited to Collude with the Russians.”
The Republican activist, Peter W. Smith, died at 81 just days after communicating with the Journal for these stories. While he had denied any link between his efforts to obtain Clinton’s emails and the Trump campaign, details of the case seem to suggest otherwise. They add to the thickening smoke that continues to envelop the Trump administration while independent counsel Robert Mueller investigates Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections and possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign.
As noted by the Journal and source Matt Tait, a U.K.–based security consultant, Smith cited in a recruitment document—aimed at building a team to find Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails—links to several Trump team members, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sam Clovis, and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn. The links to Flynn and his son, Michael G. Flynn, are particularly noteworthy.
Bannon and Conway denied any involvement in Smith’s efforts to obtain the emails from hackers, and the others named in the stories did not respond to the Journal’s request for information.
According to the report:
Mr. Smith said in the May interview he had assembled a group of technology experts, lawyers and a Russian-speaking investigator based in Europe to acquire emails his group theorized might have been stolen from Mrs. Clinton’s private server.
He said that after vetting batches of emails offered to him by hacker groups last fall, he couldn’t be sure enough of their authenticity to leak them himself and told the hackers to give them to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks did not publish those emails or claim to have had them.
Tait said he published his blog “to provide a fuller accounting of experiences which were thoroughly bizarre and which I did not fully understand until I read the Journal’s account of the episode yesterday.”
Tait said Smith contacted him around the time WikiLeaks published Democratic National Committee emails hacked by Russia—an attack Trump two weeks ago called a “Dem HOAX!”—and around the same time Trump publicly called on Russia to hack Clinton’s servers to find the missing emails.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens,” Trump said in a July 2016 press conference.
According to Tait, “Smith implied that he was a well-connected Republican political operative.”
Yet Smith had not contacted me about the DNC hack, but rather about his conviction that Clinton’s private email server had been hacked—in his view almost certainly both by the Russian government and likely by multiple other hackers too—and his desire to ensure that the fruits of those hacks were exposed prior to the election. Over the course of a long phone call, he mentioned that he had been contacted by someone on the “Dark Web” who claimed to have a copy of emails from Secretary Clinton’s private server, and this was why he had contacted me; he wanted me to help validate whether or not the emails were genuine.
Smith was aware that some of those hackers were Russian operatives, both Tait and the newspaper note.
Smith, however, didn’t seem to care. From his perspective it didn’t matter who had taken the emails, or their motives for doing so. He never expressed to me any discomfort with the possibility that the emails he was seeking were potentially from a Russian front, a likelihood he was happy to acknowledge. If they were genuine, they would hurt Clinton’s chances, and therefore help Trump.
When he first contacted me, I did not know who Smith was, but his legitimate connections within the Republican party were apparent…
Tait goes on to describe some pretty convincing details that Smith was indeed connected to the Republicans, and particularly to the Flynns.
Smith sent Tait a document titled, “A Demonstrative Pedagogical Summary to be Developed and Released Prior to November 8, 2016,” which had details about KLS Research, an LLC set up in Delaware to conduct campaign “research” and “to avoid campaign reporting.”
My perception then was that the inclusion of Trump campaign officials on this document was not merely a name-dropping exercise. This document was about establishing a company to conduct opposition research on behalf of the campaign, but operating at a distance so as to avoid campaign reporting. Indeed, the document says as much in black and white.