So far, I’ve been focused on the successful hacking that the Russians did during the presidential campaign and haven’t focused much on the request Donald Trump made on July 27th, 2016 that Russia find the 33,000 emails that Hillary Clinton allegedly deleted because they were, she says, unrelated to official business and personal in nature. But I guess we need to revisit that request now in light of new reporting from the Wall Street Journal.
Let me just refresh your memory on this a little bit.
By late July of 2016, the intelligence community was reporting with confidence that Russian state-sponsored hackers were responsible for breaking and entering into DNC headquarters and leaking emails on the eve of the Democratic National Convention that led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chairwoman of the party. The Obama administration was not yet publicly accusing the Russians of responsibility, but they were privately developing options for retaliation. This was all known to the press and served as the context in which Trump made his now infamous comments:
Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference here in an apparent reference to Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Mr. Trump’s call was another bizarre moment in the mystery of whether Vladimir V. Putin’s government has been seeking to influence the United States’ presidential race.
At some point after that press conference, our intelligence community intercepted communications from “Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. [Michael] Flynn via an intermediary.”
Apparently, they did not identify the intermediary at that time. Yet, there is now strong evidence to suggest that the intermediary was Peter W. Smith, a recently deceased long-time adversary of the Clintons who helped finance the Arkansas Project back in the 1990s. The Arkansas Project hired David Brock and pursued the Clintons relentlessly on a variety of fronts, from Whitewater to rumors that Bill Clinton had fathered a black child to what became known as Troopergate to the suicide of White House aide Vince Foster. Their efforts eventually resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton for matters that linked back indirectly to Paula Jones.
The evidence that Peter W. Smith colluded with the Russians to obtain stolen emails from Hillary Clinton’s server is incontrovertible because Smith admitted to it in May shortly before he died at age 81. But the really concerning part of this is that Smith was promoting his effort as something that was approved and coordinated by Michael Flynn and his son. He did, in fact, receive emails that were purported to be the Holy Grail of deleted emails Donald Trump had requested, but he couldn’t verify their authenticity and didn’t want to take responsibility for publishing them. He asked the hackers to send them to WikiLeaks.
Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.
In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.
“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails.
Emails written by Mr. Smith and one of his associates show that his small group considered Mr. Flynn and his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group, to be allies in their quest.
Here’s the really alarming part:
Mr. Smith and one of his associates said they had a line of communication with Mr. Flynn and his consulting company.
In one Smith email reviewed by the Journal, intended to entice outside experts to join his work, he offered to make introductions to Mr. Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, who worked as chief of staff in his father’s company. Mr. Smith’s email mentioned the son among a small number of other people he said were helping.
Michael G. Flynn didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In another recruiting email seen by the Journal, Jonathan Safron, a law student Mr. Smith described as a close colleague, included links to the websites and LinkedIn profiles of people purportedly working with the Smith team. At the top of the list was the name and website of Flynn Intel, which Mr. Flynn set up after his 2014 firing as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Mr. Safron declined to comment on his email or Mr. Smith’s project.
I suppose there are a variety of defenses available here. Michael Flynn and his son can say that they never authorized Mr. Smith to use their names or their company in this manner. The Trump administration has already said that Mr. Smith had no role in their campaign and was acting as a free agent. At the time, even the Flynns were more informal advisers and supporters than salaried members of Trump’s campaign team. And, of course, Mr. Smith is now dead and unavailable to testify in court or provide further information to the Special Counsel.
But the alleged involvement of the Flynns in this activity is close to a smoking gun when you consider what subsequently transpired. I won’t detail all of that here, except to remind you that Trump ignored all advice and warnings and made the elder Flynn his national security adviser, refused to fire him even when told he was likely compromised by the Russians, and fired James Comey after the FBI Director refused to follow his request to drop his investigation of Flynn.
If nothing else, the case that Trump was attempting to conceal something and obstruct justice when he asked that Flynn’s connections to the Russians be dropped just got closer to a slam-dunk.
What’s odd about this is that it pertains entirely to events and actions that took place after the DNC hacks and after the initial release of emails. This seems to have been an effort to prove that Clinton’s private email server had been hacked, which at the time was something that James Comey said was possible but unproven. It looks like it was based on the conspiracy theory that Clinton was lying when she said the deleted emails were personal in nature.
While this story shows collusion, it doesn’t link Flynn and Trump back to the Guccifer 2.0 hacks that were the previous focus of interest. Yet, it also shows an amazing recklessness that these folks would aggressively seek to collude with Russian hackers at the exact same time that the intelligence community and the Obama administration were trying to figure out a way to punish the Russians for what they had already done.
If either Flynn left electronic records of communications with Mr. Smith, the Special Counsel will have arrived right at Trump’s door. And, of course, the elder Flynn is facing enough charges to add up to significant jail time. He may decide that testifying to Trump’s knowledge of his activities is the only way to remain a free man.