A Republican opposition researcher, who implied he worked with Michael Flynn, launched an effort to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails that he believed were hacked by Russia, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
Peter W. Smith, a GOP operative and private equity executive, launched the project over Labor Day weekend in 2016 according to the Journal. Smith told people he recruited to the effort that he was working with Flynn, who would later briefly serve as President Trump's National Security Adviser. Smith also said he was working with Flynn's son.
Smith would not tell the paper if Flynn was working with the group. However, the paper also reports that intelligence officials have obtained communications between Russian hackers in which they discuss how to obtain Clinton's emails and pass them along to Flynn through a third party.
White House tries to distance itself from former campaign chair with Russia ties
Those intercepts of the hackers' conversations occurred while Smith's group was operating, intelligence officials told the paper, although they could not conclude that Smith or any members of his team were the supposed third party the Russians' discussed.
Smith's team included lawyers, technology experts, and an investigator in Europe who spoke Russian. He died ten days after he talked to the Journal, at age 81.
The team focused on obtaining the roughly 33,000 emails that had been deleted from Clinton's server – the same emails Mr. Trump had publicly encouraged Russia to find and leak last year, a comment the White House now insists was made in jest. Last year, then-FBI director James Comey said there was no evidence the server had ever been hacked, although he didn't rule out the possibility.
Clinton's private email server, which State Department watchdog ruled in 2016 violated email policy, was an issue that dogged her through the 2016 election campaign. In July 2016, Comey announced that he would not recommend charges be brought against Clinton in the matter. The State Department's inspector general said in May 2016 that hackers had tried to breach Clinton's email server
In May 2017, former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel by the Justice Department to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied allegations that the Russian government interfered in the election to bolster his chances of winning, calling Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt."
Smith told the Journal that his team found five hacker groups that said they had possession of Clinton's emails, including two Russian ones. "We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government," Smith told the paper.
In one email sent entice experts to join his team, Smith said that he could introduce them to Flynn's son, and said that the son was helping with the effort. Flynn's son was at that time his father's chief of staff. Smith told other potential recruits that Flynn was working with the team.
Emails obtained by the Journal indicate that Smith and his team believed that Flynn and Flynn's consulting company were assisting their effort. Flynn was fired as National Security Adviser earlier this year for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.
Smith said that he never intended to pay for any emails, and that while he believed the Russians had attempted to hack Clinton's email server, he said he did not think they were trying to help Mr. Trump win the election.