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The Lawfare Podcast, Special Edition: Shane Harris on The Wall Street Journal's Collusion Story

By Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, June 29, 2017, 10:06 PM

Today, the Wall Street Journal published a remarkable story that for the first time offers concrete evidence—not conclusive evidence, to be sure—of attempts at collusion between people connected to the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. The story opens:

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.

. . .

Mr. Smith died at age 81 on May 14, which was about 10 days after the Journal interviewed him. His account of the email search is believed to be his only public comment on it.

The operation Mr. Smith described is consistent with information that has been examined by U.S. investigators probing Russian interference in the elections.

Those investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence.

It isn’t clear who that intermediary might have been or whether Mr. Smith’s operation was the one allegedly under discussion by the Russian hackers. The reports were compiled during the same period when Mr. Smith’s group was operating, according to the officials.

Shortly after the story, reporter Shane Harris stopped by Brookings to discuss it.