Peter W. Smith suspected he was communicating with Russian government agents.
Peter W. Smith, a Republican political activist, named Trump campaign officials in a document used in efforts to locate missing emails from Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Smith had stated his work included communicating with Russian hackers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the document was intended to recruit researchers to help find 33,000 emails that had been deleted from private servers Hillary Clinton used while Secretary of State, before those emails were turned over to the State Department. Smith and others believed hackers might have obtained the missing emails. The document was dated September 7, 2016, less than two months after then-candidate Donald Trump publicly encouraged Russian hackers to locate the emails.
Emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign officials were released throughout the height of the 2016 campaign, in what is believed to have been a Russian government effort. Speaking with the Journal before his death in mid-May, Smith said he suspected some of the hackers he was communicating with as he sought the missing emails were connected to the Russian government.
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Smith wasn’t part of the Trump campaign. But the document’s list of Trump campaign officials was accompanied by the phrase “in coordination to the extent permitted as an independent expenditure.”
Trump campaign staff and spokespersons named in the document include Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, who in statements to the Journal denied communicating or coordinating with Smith. Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was referenced more extensively, and a researcher working for Smith elsewhere said he had communicated with Flynn about the effort to find the missing Clinton emails. Flynn briefly served as President Trump’s National Security Adviser before leaving under a cloud of Russia-related suspicion.
An ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is seeking further evidence of Russian interference in the U.S. election, and of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.