UPDATED: Bannon, Kellyanne, Clovis now implicated in GOP op’s collusion with Russian hackers
UPDATE: Late Friday evening, Shane Harris’s source revealed himself. Just when you thought the story couldn’t get better, it does.
Josh Marshall summarizes the two big takeaways from Matt Tait’s Lawfare post:
The critical points Tait reveals are these. 1) That in his conversations with Smith and his associates it was clear that they did not care if the sources of the emails were Russian intelligence officers or if the emails had been hacked by Russian intelligence. They were entirely indifferent to this reality. They didn’t care. 2) Smith discussed what seemed to be highly detailed and confidential information about the inner workings of the Trump campaign, details that made Tait think that Smith wasn’t just some name dropper freelancing but actually had deep ties into the campaign and especially with Mike Flynn.
Thursday evening’s WSJ bombshell from reporter Shane Harris got a lot bigger with a second volley landing Friday night. The subject of both articles – dirty trickster Peter W. Smith, a recently deceased GOP operative who first came to notice as a participant in the “Arkansas Project” – has left a great big postmortem collusion mess for Team Trump. The highlights:
A longtime Republican activist who led an operation hoping to obtain Hillary Clinton emails from hackers listed senior members of the Trump campaign, including some who now serve as top aides in the White House, in a recruitment document for his effort. … [Smith]named the officials in a section of the document marked “Trump Campaign.” The document was dated Sept. 7, 2016. That was around the time Mr. Smith said he started his search for 33,000 emails Mrs. Clinton deleted from the private server she used for official business while secretary of state. She said the deleted emails concerned personal matters. She turned over tens of thousands of other emails to the State Department.
Mr. Smith died in mid-May at age 81, about 10 days after he spoke to the Journal. He said he operated independently of the Trump campaign.
Officials identified in the document include Steve Bannon, now chief strategist for President Donald Trump; Kellyanne Conway, former campaign manager and now White House counselor; Sam Clovis, a policy adviser to the Trump campaign and now a senior adviser at the Agriculture Department; and retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who was a campaign adviser and briefly was national security adviser in the Trump administration.
Mr. Bannon said he never met with Mr. Smith or anyone affiliated with a limited-liability company, KLS Research LLC, that the document said had been established for its mission. “Never heard of KLS Research or Peter Smith,” Mr. Bannon said.
Ms. Conway said she knew Mr. Smith from Republican politics but hadn’t spoken to him in years. “I never met with him” during the campaign, Ms. Conway said. “There were no calls, no meetings, no nothing.”
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Agriculture Department, Mr. Clovis’s employer.
The document section that lists campaign officials is followed by the words, “in coordination to the extent permitted as an independent expenditure.”—a possible reference to campaign strictures imposed by campaign finance and disclosure laws.
The document was included in a package of opposition research Mr. Smith shared through an encrypted email with Matt Tait, a cybersecurity expert who once worked for British intelligence. Mr. Tait said he was approached last summer by Mr. Smith, who wanted him to help verify whether emails offered to the group by hackers came from Mrs. Clinton’s private serve.
Mr. Smith asked Mr. Tait to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Mr. Tait said he declined and ceased communications with Mr. Smith, never reviewing any purported Clinton emails.
The document Mr. Smith presented to Mr. Tait, which he kept, is titled, “A Demonstrative Pedagogical Summary to be Developed and Released Prior to November 8, 2016,” which was Election Day.
Mr. Smith said in the May interview he had assembled a group of technology experts, lawyers and a Russian-speaking investigator based in Europe to acquire emails his group theorized might have been stolen from Mrs. Clinton’s private server.
He said that after vetting batches of emails offered to him by hacker groups last fall, he couldn’t be sure enough of their authenticity to leak them himself and told the hackers to give them to WikiLeaks.