Curiouser and curiouser. And later and later. My acuity at analysis declines after about 3 in the afternoon, but I figure this is important enough to pose some questions now.
Yesterday and today the Wall Street Journal had two articles about a man named Peter Smith, who was a Republican political operative and VERY interested in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s allegedly hacked emails. I read the first last night and can’t access the second behind the Journal’s paywall. (Any Juicer who wants to send it, my address is at the top of the page.) In any case, what is in the articles seems vague and suggestive of connections rather than determinative. But it is little pieces put together that will finally make a picture.
Within the past hour, Matt Tait, who tweets as @pwnallthethings, posted on Lawfare. Tait was one of the sources for the WSJ articles and has his own story to tell about Smith. I’ll post some selections with my questions.
First, the presence of old (ancient, even) Republican operatives around Trump has struck me for some time. The late Roy Cohn, the dandyish Roger Stone, and now Peter Smith. Cohn and Stone go back to the Nixon days. And all three are associated with dirty tricks. No question here, just an observation.
The Trump campaign seems to have been very eager to get Clinton’s emails. Smith contacted Tait seemingly to enlist him in a search for and potential verification of those emails.
Initially, I assumed the query must have been about my work on the DNC hack; after all, few people followed my account prior to the DNC breach, whereas my analysis of the break-in at the DNC had received considerably more coverage. I assumed his query about the “Clinton emails” was therefore a mistake and that he meant instead to talk to me about the emails stolen from the DNC. So I agreed to talk to him, thinking that, whatever my views on then-candidate Trump, if a national campaign wanted an independent non-partisan view on the facts surrounding the case, I should provide it to the best of my ability.
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. Towards 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.
What was Smith’s role in the campaign? He is said to be skilled in opposition research. The Steele dossier was funded by a Republican who supported Jeb Bush in the primary, and then taken up by a Democratic funder (I think) after the Republican convention. Does his activity dovetail with Christopher Steele’s?
Tait suspected that Smith’s “Dark Web” contact was Russian, but Smith didn’t seem to care where he got the information. Was a Russian connection accidental? Probably wouldn’t be from the Russian side.
Flynn is in this up to his earlobes. How much did Trump know? He certainly was fond of Flynn.
Although it wasn’t initially clear to me how independent Smith’s operation was from Flynn or the Trump campaign, it was immediately apparent that Smith was both well connected within the top echelons of the campaign and he seemed to know both Lt. Gen. Flynn and his son well. Smith routinely talked about the goings on at the top of the Trump team, offering deep insights into the bizarre world at the top of the Trump campaign. Smith told of Flynn’s deep dislike of DNI Clapper, whom Flynn blamed for his dismissal by President Obama. Smith told of Flynn’s moves to position himself to become CIA Director under Trump, but also that Flynn had been persuaded that the Senate confirmation process would be prohibitively difficult. He would instead therefore become National Security Advisor should Trump win the election, Smith said.
Tait keeps referring to Smith’s “deep knowledge of the campaign.” I’ll go back to my question about his role and also wonder who his connections in the campaign were.