In the same week in which Donald Trump Jr. admitted to working with Russia to collect incriminating information against Hillary Clinton, another potential link in the Trump-Russia probe has resurfaced: It was revealed that GOP operative Peter W. Smith did not die of natural causes but suicide after trying to get Hillary Clinton’s missing emails from Russian hackers. Although Smith insisted that he worked independently, the financier later claimed he had ties to the Trump campaign. Bustle has reached out to the Trump administration for comment.
Smith was an investment banker, Trump supporter and Republican researcher who was thought to have died of natural causes until the Chicago Tribune obtained his Minnesota state death record. Prior to his recent political involvement, he was known for facilitating and funding an effort to discredit former President Bill Clinton with unproven allegations that Clinton used state troopers to procure extramarital trysts.
He also started a blog in November 2016 and in the time leading up to his death, wrote blog posts and tweeted his approval of the Trump team and opinion that Russia did not interfere with the election. His website is currently down, but cached pages show that he was actively blogging the day before he died. Smith's suicide note states no foul play was involved.
In his May interview with the The Wall Street Journal, where Smith first confirmed his attempt to connect with Russian hackers, he claimed that one of his allies was a Trump's top campaign adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
President Trump appointed Flynn as his national security adviser, but Flynn resigned less than a month later after it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence by not disclosing his communications with Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak. Trump's campaign team did not deny the connection, but told The Wall Street Journal that “if Mr. Flynn coordinated with [Smith] in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual.”
The Justice Department also found reports that link Flynn to Russian hackers. U.S. intelligence had intercepted the communication while investigating Russia's alleged interference in the U.S. election. The reports describe Russian hackers trying to obtain the same emails that Smith was searching for, with the intention of transmitting the content to Flynn through an intermediary. The investigation does not confirm Smith is that intermediary, however.
In addition to his relationship with Flynn, Smith has other possible connections to the Trump campaign. He was an enthusiastic supporter and financial backer of former House Speaker Newt Gringich, one of Trump's key and earliest advisers.
When Smith's own inbox was hacked, his emails revealed that he was conspiring to oust House Speaker Paul Ryan in collaboration with Matt Boyle, a political editor from far-right news outlet Breibart. Critics have called Breibart a Trump mouthpiece.
Smith also tried to recruit other members of Trump's circle alongside Flynn to join his Clinton email operation: White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, and Trump campaign aide Sam Clovis, The Wall Street Journal reported. Bannon, Conway, and Clovis have either denied or not confirmed this.
Requesting stolen emails can be a cause for prosecution, and those involved with Smith's operation of illegally obtaining and transmitting hacked information could face felony charges. For now, the Trump-Russia investigation continues.