|THE INTERMEDIARY, THE OPERATIVE AND THE PRESIDENT|
Peter W. Smith was a longtime operative in the alternate universe occupied by Bill and Hillary Clinton haters, and at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign, the holy grail and ultimate gotcha in their relentless decades-long effort to smear the former president and his wife had become the 30,000 emails that apparently went missing from Mrs. Clinton's private server when she was secretary of state.
So it makes sense in a perverse sort of way typical of the now white-hot Russia scandal that Smith's quest for those emails is providing investigators with what may be the first definitive evidence of how communications between the hackers who interfered in the election and Donald Trump's campaign worked.
Not surprisingly, the key intermediary may have been Michael Flynn.
Smith, who was terminally ill and died on May 14 at age 81 after apparently committing suicide, was the major financial supporter behind the 1993 Troopergate story, in which several Arkansas state troopers accused Bill Clinton of sexual dalliances while he was governor of Arkansas, among other ethically suspect right-wing vendettas.
Prior to his death, Smith spilled the beans to Wall Street Journal reporter Scott Shane, who went public in two stories published late last week. But the really big news is a disclosure following the second Journal story by Matt Tait, a British cybersecurity expert, confirming that Smith had access to Flynn, a Trump campaign adviser and future national security director who has notoriously suffered multiple memory lapses about his rendezvous with Russians during the campaign and may be -- or may be not -- squealing to investigators to save his traitorous ass about something that Trump continues to insist never happened while blaming Barack Obama for letting it happen.
Anyhow, Tait states that Smith was working not only to find the missing emails, but to hide the Trump campaign's involvement.
We'll let Jonathan Chait of New York magazine take it from there:
Tait had established some expertise analyzing Clinton's emails; Smith, who said he had been contacted by someone who possessed a cache of emails from Clinton’s private server, wanted help validating them. As Tait explains, he warned Smith that Russia had been conducting an attack on the U.S. elections, but Smith appeared completely unconcerned about it. Smith tried to hire Tait for his project and showed him a document creating an independent-looking organization to try to acquire the stolen emails. The document, Tait reports, "detailed a company Smith and his colleagues had set up as a vehicle to conduct the research: 'KLS Research', set up as a Delaware LLC 'to avoid campaign reporting,' and listing four groups who were involved in one way or another." This certainly appears like an attempt to mask the Trump campaign’s involvement in the plot.
The document listed a series of high-level Trump campaign officials: Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sam Clovis, Lt. Gen. Flynn, and Lisa Nelson. Bannon and Conway, contacted by the Journal, deny any involvement with Smith. But Smith's comments to Tait indicate a fairly close understanding of Trump campaign internal dynamics. It is possible he was bluffing, but Smith seemed to be displaying authentic insider credentials.
The key to understanding the significance of this report is to put it together with a sentence from Harris's first story on this in the Journal, which reports that U.S. investigators "have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton's server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary."
Clinton herself apparently deleted the emails, while then-FBI Director James Comey has stated that her email server did not apppear to have been hacked.
But other sources have said Smith believed that no less than five different groups of hackers already had the emails, two of which were Russian, and he advised the hackers to share the emails with Wikileaks, which had become a Vladimir Putin-friendly conduit for releasing hacked emails and other documents in one of the primary tentacles of the election interference plot -- efforts to embarrass Clinton and the Democrats.
In any event, Wikileaks has not acknowledged receipt of those emails and they otherwise have never been revealed.
What is additionally intriguing and has not been discussed in the flurry of articles about the Shane-Tait disclosures is that during that general timeframe Trump very publicly called on Russia to hack the 30,000 emails. In an extraordinary turn of events, the future president urged a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against the former secretary of state, declaring at a July 27, 2016 news conference in Doral, Florida:
Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think that you probably will be rewarded mightily by our press.
Was Trump aware of what Flynn and Smith apparently were up to and wanted to issue Moscow a challenge it couldn't miss? That certainly is a possibility as investigators slog ever closer to tying the campaign -- and possibly the candidate himself -- to Russia's ultimately successful efforts to elect Trump.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.