Lots of dots on the board here but no firm connections. Last year a Republican operative named Peter Smith apparently reached out to hackers various and sundry to see if any of them had emails lifted from Hillary Clinton’s homebrew server. He also claimed to be in contact with Mike Flynn, raising the possibility that Smith was acting at the behest of the Trump campaign. And if, if, if that’s true, then you’ve got actual evidence of collusion — not necessarily with Russian hackers, as Smith didn’t limit his outreach to Russians, but evidence that Team Trump was interested in coordinating on anti-Democrat hacking operations. And if they were interested in that, maybe they were also interested in coordinating with Russian hackers on the DNC and Podesta operations
But back up. How many ifs are in play here? There’s no proof that Smith actually was connected to Flynn, which means there’s no evidence that Trump’s campaign had anything to do with this anti-Hillary job. Smith may just have been a right-wing Clinton-hater throwing Flynn’s name around to try to get hackers interested. And if the campaign had nothing to do with Smith’s endeavors, what reason is there to think they had anything to do with the DNC or Podesta operations? This story is interesting not because of the underlying claim it makes but a question it raises: Was Mike Flynn sniffing around for hacked material to use against the Democrats? If so, who else in the Trump campaign knew that, and/or was sniffing around themselves?
“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…
In phone conversations, Mr. Smith told a computer expert he was in direct contact with Mr. Flynn and his son, according to this expert. The person said an anti-Clinton research document prepared by Mr. Smith’s group identified the younger Mr. Flynn as someone associated with the effort. The expert said that based on his conversations with Mr. Smith, he understood the elder Mr. Flynn to be coordinating with Mr. Smith’s group in his capacity as a Trump campaign adviser.
That’s some mighty vague language. Did Flynn put Smith up to this or did Smith tell Flynn offhandedly, “Hey, I’m trying to get Hillary’s emails,” and Flynn or Flynn Jr replied, “Okay, keep me posted,” and that was the extent of it? Big difference in culpability between those two, needless to say. Smith never claimed in his interview with the Journal that Flynn was involved in the operation, in fact, only that he knew him.
This is provocative, though:
The operation Mr. Smith described is consistent with information that has been examined by U.S. investigators probing Russian interference in the elections.
Those 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, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence.
Who was the intermediary? Was that Smith or was there someone else in touch with both Mike Flynn and Russian hackers? And if so, how independently was that intermediary operating?
Smith said that at least five different groups of hackers claimed to have Hillary’s emails, two of which he believed to be Russian. (“We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government.”) He also claims to have received batches of what purported to be Clinton’s emails from at least one hacking group but wasn’t confident enough in them to leak them himself, instead encouraging hackers to hand them off to Wikileaks. Why they didn’t, no one knows. That last excerpt above may help explain why Flynn seems to be such a central figure in the feds’ Russiagate probe, though. It’s not just his sanctions chitchat with the Russian ambassador, it’s the fact that his name apparently came up among Russian hackers themselves when discussing anti-Democrat operations. The FBI obviously wants to know why. Was Flynn dragged into this unwittingly by an overly chatty Smith, eager to impress his hacker pals by name-dropping his friend in the Trump campaign, or did Flynn himself put out feelers to hackers to see what they could dig up from Clinton/Democratic servers? The worst-case scenario is that Flynn was some sort of nexus for collusion with Russian hackers. But we’re about a dozen or so ifs away from establishing that.
Here’s a stroll down memory lane from the campaign. Exit question via Gizmodo editor John Cook: If the campaign really was looking to coordinate with Russian hackers, Peter Smith would be an odd choice to task with that effort, no? He died last month at the age of 81. Granted, he was a Republican opposition researcher, but an elderly man is a strange deputy to oversee collusion with outfits working in platforms dominated by the young.
Update: Whoops. The operative’s name is Peter Smith, not Kevin. Apologies for the brain freeze.