For about a week now, Benjamin Wittes, the Brookings Institution senior fellow and noted ally of former FBI Director James Comey, has been taunting the Trump administration with tweets suggesting that another ‘bombshell’ story, presumably related to the Russia investigation, was in the works and set to drop any minute (we covered it all here: “Tick, Tick, Tick” Comey Ally Scrambles To Explain Why “Next Trump Bombshell” Didn’t Arrive Today).
Of course, people took notice of the warnings because Wittes posted similar tweets just before the New York Times published their now infamous story on Comey’s memos.
TICK TICK TICK TICK TICK TICK pic.twitter.com/yuL0o0TBbT
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) June 23, 2017
So what was the “bombshell” story? It seems to have come in the form of a rather bizarre, and thoroughly difficult to follow, Wall Street Journal article entitled “GOP Operative Sought Clinton Emails From Hackers, Implied a Connection to Flynn.”
To summarize the ‘bombshell’, the story is about a long-time Republican opposition researcher, 81-year-old Peter W. Smith, who apparently set out on a mission to find Hillary’s 30,000 emails which the FBI confirmed had gone missing. In his efforts to find those emails, he scoured hacking chat rooms looking for clues and/or hackers that might be able to help him. The WSJ alleges that Smith may or may not have been working with Michael Flynn but, in the end, they found absolutely nothing. To summarize even further, a guy tried to find Hillary’s missing emails and failed…HALT THE PRESSES!
Of course, the goal of the story is to paint some sinister plot that involved Smith and Michael Flynn enlisting the help of some Russians to hack the 2016 election…thus ‘proving’ the collusion angle.
Unfortunately, the story seems to prove the exact opposite which is, if Flynn was really running around on some wild goose chase looking for Hillary’s missing 30,000 emails by chatting up hackers on a message board then we have to assume that means he wasn’t in any way connected to the original hack which ended up on WikiLeaks.
In any event, here is the Wall Street Journal’s take:
Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.
In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.
“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails.
Emails written by Mr. Smith and one of his associates show that his small group considered Mr. Flynn and his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group, to be allies in their quest.
Of course, it’s only deeper in the story that the WSJ admits they have no idea if Flynn was even involved with Smith…but no one reads an entire article so it’s fairly irrelevant.
What role, if any, Mr. Flynn may have played in Mr. Smith’s project is unclear. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Smith said he knew Mr. Flynn, but he never stated that Mr. Flynn was involved.
And another irrelevant detail from the WSJ:
Mr. Smith said he worked independently and wasn’t part of the Trump campaign.
Finally, Smith apparently started his search for Hillary’s emails over the Labor Day Weekend in 2016. His efforts to scour hacker forums ultimately yielded 5 groups who claimed to have the missing emails, 2 of which were Russian. However, Smith seemingly doubted the authenticity of the intelligence he received and, as a result, never leaked their contents.
His project began over Labor Day weekend 2016 when Mr. Smith, a private-equity executive from Chicago active in Republican politics, said he assembled a group of technology experts, lawyers and a Russian-speaking investigator based in Europe to acquire emails the group theorized might have been stolen from the private server Mrs. Clinton used as secretary of state.
In the interview with the Journal, Mr. Smith said he and his colleagues found five groups of hackers who claimed to possess Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails, including two groups he determined were Russians.
Mr. Smith said 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. “We told all the groups to give them to WikiLeaks,” he said. WikiLeaks has never published those emails or claimed to have them.
Meanwhile, the WSJ confirms that Smith died last month at the age of 81.
So there you have it…all the makings of another salacious, ‘bombshell’ story with multiple references to Russians, hackers, collusion, shady dealings with Michael Flynn, etc, etc, etc….yet still no evidence of pretty much anything.