A Republican opposition researcher who claimed to be linked to former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was in communication with Russian hackers who he believed had stolen emails from Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
And according to The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, the project could be the same one that U.S. officials have reviewed as part of the investigation into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with the Russian government.
U.S. officials told the Journal that intelligence agencies have compiled reports “that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary.”
The Journal report does not provide evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government. But the report is sure to raise further questions about Flynn, who was fired as Trump’s national security adviser three weeks into the job and who is the subject of several ongoing investigations.
The Journal piece identifies the Republican operative as Peter Smith, a Chicago-based private equity investor who owned the firm Corporate Venture Alliances.
Smith died on May 14 at the age of 81. The Journal interviewed him just 10 days before his passing.
According to the Journal, Smith implied in emails that he was coordinating with Flynn on the project, which began around Labor Day.
Smith, who had no official affiliation with the Trump campaign and claimed to be working completely independently, employed a team of tech experts, lawyers and an investigator in Europe to obtain what he believed were emails stolen from the email server Clinton used as secretary of state. Clinton claimed that she deleted 33,000 emails that were purely personal.
Whether Clinton’s server was hacked was a matter of intense speculation during the presidential campaign. Clinton insisted that the device was never breached, and FBI Director James Comey said that investigators found no evidence that the server was hacked. But Comey said last year that the possibility could not be ruled out completely.
According to the Journal, Smith claimed that his investigative team found five hacker groups who said they had Clinton’s emails. Two of the groups were Russian, Smith told the Journal.
“We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government,” Smith said.
Smith told the newspaper that after his group reviewed the emails, they could not be certain the the documents were legitimate. He said he suggested that the hackers turn the emails over to WikiLeaks, the website that published emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Emails reviewed by the Journal showed that Smith offered to make introductions to Michael G. Flynn, Flynn’s son and his chief of staff at Flynn Intel Group, the consulting firm that the retired lieutenant general founded in 2015.
Smith also told a computer expert who worked on his team that he was in direct contact with Flynn and his son. The expert said that he believed that Flynn was coordinating with Smith.
Another email from a Smith associate suggested connections to Flynn and Flynn Intel Group.
According to the Journal, a law student who worked for Smith named Jonathan Safron sent a recruiting email for the project that identified people working on Smith’s 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,” the Journal reports.
Reached by The Daily Caller, Safron, who is listed as a research director at Smith’s company, Corporate Venture Alliances, said that he did not recall the information laid out in the Journal piece.
“I don’t recall anything that was mentioned, and as such, I don’t have anything to add because I don’t know anything. Peter has passed and I would like to just move on and leave this in the past,” he said.
Another member of Smith’s team said that the late Republican operative claimed to be coordinating with Flynn.
“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?'” an Atlanta-based computer security expert named Eric York told the Journal.
York was hired to search hacker forums for signs of stolen Clinton emails.