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Russia scandal takes an alarming turn for Trump World

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on SyriaOn Thursday night, the Wall Street Journal published
an important piece on Donald Trump’s Russia scandal, noting that a
longtime Republican operative, Peter Smith, assembled a team that set
out to obtain Hillary Clinton emails. To that end, Smith and his cohorts
reached out to people they believed to be Russian hackers, affiliated
with Russia’s government, because Smith and his cohorts thought these
hackers may have stolen the materials.

The point, as we discussed
last week, was to then use the stolen documents in the United States,
exploiting materials from Russia to affect the American election. In
other words, we’re talking about a group of folks who, in a rather
literal sense, tried to collude with Russia as part of the country’s
attack on our election.

Just as importantly, while Smith wasn’t officially part of Trump’s
presidential campaign, he did tell multiple people on multiple occasions
that this project was coordinated with Michael Flynn – who at the time
was a senior adviser to Trump, and who went on to become the White House
National Security Advisor in the Trump administration.

Over the holiday weekend, the Wall Street Journal moved the ball forward with some additional details.

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.

The activist, Peter W. Smith, named the officials in a section of the
document marked “Trump Campaign.” The document was dated Sept. 7,
2016…. 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.

So, we’re talking about some of the first real evidence of collusion
between a Republican in the U.S. and Russians hoping to help put Donald
Trump in power. These new reports are shining light on who this
Republican was working with – and the possibility of this man, Smith,
working as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and the foreign
adversary that attacked the American election.

Indeed, according to Smith, who died in April, he was in
communications with top members of Trump’s campaign team while he trying
to collude with Russian agents obtain Clinton emails.

What’s more, Lawfare published a provocative piece
late on Friday night from security consultant Matt Tait, who described
having worked briefly with Smith on his Clinton-email endeavor. “[I]t
was immediately apparent that Smith was both well connected within the
top echelons of the campaign and he seemed to know both Lt. Gen. Flynn
and his son well,” Tait wrote. “Smith routinely talked about the goings
on at the top of the Trump team, offering deep insights into the bizarre
world at the top of the Trump campaign.”

His piece added, “The combination of Smith’s deep knowledge of the
inner workings of the campaign, this document naming him in the ‘Trump
campaign’ group, and the multiple references to needing to avoid
campaign reporting suggested to me that the group was formed with the
blessing of the Trump campaign.”

As for the high-profile names Smith referenced as his contacts in
Trump World, Tait wrote, “My perception … was that the inclusion of
Trump campaign officials on this document was not merely a name-dropping
exercise. This document was about establishing a company to conduct
opposition research on behalf of the campaign, but operating at a
distance so as to avoid campaign reporting.”

Trump and his allies wanted Clinton’s deleted emails. The GOP candidate wasn’t shy on this point, declaring
at a press conference last summer, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope
you’re about to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing. I
think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if
that happens. That will be next.”

To that end, a Republican financier went to work trying to find those
emails, talking to Russian agents, and telling people he hoped to serve
as intermediary between Russian contacts and people he knew on Team
Trump.

In recent months, those watching this scandal progress haven’t just
wondered about possible collusion and cooperation between the Trump
campaign and Moscow. We’ve also asked related questions such as, what
would that collusion look like? In what form? Through what mechanisms?

A possible answer is coming into focus.

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