POLITICS
08/03/2017 02:54 pm ET

The Curious Case Of Peter W. Smith

A wealthy billionaire GOP donor adds another wrinkle to an already complicated saga.
Who Was Peter Smith?
A Chicago investment banker and longtime Republican operative known for funding and conducting opposition research on the Clintons. Smith told The Wall Street Journal in May that he'd worked during the 2016 election to track down emails he believed Russian hackers had stolen from Hillary Clinton's private server.

Smith died in May, shortly after the Journal interviewed him but before it published its story on Smith's work during the campaign. His death was ruled a suicide. A note beside his body read that there was "no foul play whatsoever" involved in his death, and that he'd taken his own life due to a "recent bad turn in health care."
CHICAGO - JULY 17:  The Wall Street Journal newspaper is offered for sale alongside other papers at a newsstand in the Chicago Board of Trade building July 17, 2007 in Chicago, Illinois. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has made a $5 billion offer to purchase Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images
What Did He Do?
In his quest to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails, Smith reportedly reached out to a number of hacker groups, including a pair with links to the Russian government. Smith's associates later told the Journal that they understood he had also been working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who was then serving as a senior adviser to Trump's campaign.

Smith also told the Journal that he'd actually received emails from the hackers but was not confident of their authenticity and instead suggested the hackers pass the emails to WikiLeaks.
White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images
Why Did It Matter?
In a blog post in June, security consultant Max Tait wrote that Smith had reached out to him for help tracking down Clinton emails. Tait said that Smith appeared unconcerned about the possibility that he was playing into a broader Russian effort to help Trump win.

"In my conversations with Smith and his colleague, I tried to stress this point: if this dark web contact is a front for the Russian government, you really don’t want to play this game," Tait said. "But they were not discouraged. They appeared to be convinced of the need to obtain Clinton’s private emails and make them public, and they had a reckless lack of interest in whether the emails came from a Russian cut-out." 

Although both Flynn and the Trump campaign have denied having any official involvement with Smith or his efforts, security experts have raised the prospect that Smith may have served as an intermediary responsible for passing sensitive material from Russian hackers to Trump officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as they attend a ceremony for Russia's Navy Day in Saint Petersburg on July 30, 2017.
President Vladimir Putin oversaw a pomp-filled display of Russia's naval might as the Kremlin paraded its sea power from the Baltic Sea to the shores of Syria.  Some 50 warships and submarines were on show along the Neva River and in the Gulf of Finland off the country's second city of Saint Petersburg after Putin ordered the navy to hold its first ever parade on such a grand scale.  / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Alexander Zemlianichenko        (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP/Getty Images)
Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
What Was The Fallout?
Smith's admitted contact with Russian hackers has further bolstered allegations of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

His death has also spawned a variety of outlandish conspiracy theories, with people blaming everyone from Clinton to the Russian government.
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