The Wall Street Journal put out this turgid and not terribly interesting story on Thursday, 29 June. Be sure to visit Jeff Dunetz‘s and ZeroHedge‘s treatments, as I don’t plan to rehash the whole thing here.
The basic story line is that Peter W. Smith, an octogenarian private-equity investor, supporter of the GOP, and security policy dilettante, assembled a team in September 2016 to look for Hillary’s 33,000-odd “missing” emails — the ones she failed to turn over to the State Department for review. Smith’s theory was that there was probably a hacker group out there that had obtained the emails from her non-secure home-brew server. His team found some leads, including two with Russian connections, but never considered anything they found worth pursuing.
The “big noise” part of the story is that emails related to the Smith team’s search referenced Michael Flynn and his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group, in relation to the hunt.
Nothing in the documentation viewed by WSJ indicated that Flynn was actually part of the hunt for Hillary’s emails. The WSJ article acknowledges that in a brief statement, placed well down in the story.
A Smith associate did suggest in a recruiting email for the team that the Flynn Intel Group was connected with the effort. The associate, law student Jonathan Safron, included a LinkedIn page for the Group in a list of those participating in the hunt. Other statements in the WSJ article suggest the interested party at Flynn Intel Group — if any — may well have been the retired general’s son, Michael G. Flynn, the chief of staff for the firm.
ZeroHedge believes Benjamin Wittes, the James Comey friend who — at Comey’s behest — leaked parts of Comey’s memo on his dinner with Trump to the New York Times, has been teasing the WSJ story for a week now as an impending “bombshell.”
And a survey of the usual suspects in the opinion media indicates that it is being treated that way. It doesn’t look like a bombshell to me, since (a) it’s all hearsay, as regards Flynn; (b) all it shows is that Mr. Smith tried to track down Hillary’s missing emails, without success; and (c) Hillary left herself and who knows how many national secrets open to such vulnerability (i.e., hackers getting into her email account) by setting up a home-brew server in the first place, and doing State Department business on it.
It is ridiculous to use Hillary’s unconscionably vulnerable email account as a pretext for vague implications about Michael Flynn. The impression the WSJ story leaves is that something nefarious may have happened in some way involving Flynn and “the Russians.” But nothing verifiable connects Flynn to the Smith team’s hunt (which in any case was fair game, and for which Smith stated he never offered to pay anyone for any emails that turned up). And nothing verifiable connects the Smith team to Russian hackers.
On the other hand, we know for certain that Hillary Clinton used her non-secure private email account and home-brew server to send and receive thousands of State Department emails, some of which were classified Secret and Top Secret. The heist of her campaign emails, those of John Podesta, and the DNC emails highlights the strong likelihood that the private server account on which Hillary did State Department business was also hacked.
We also know that, in spite of this information, which he had at the time, James Comey decided not to pursue an investigation of Hillary for grossly mishandling classified information. Then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch concurred in that decision.
Even if Flynn’s consulting firm was connected to the Smith team’s hunt, it’s an interesting question what would have been wrong with that. Smith claims he never offered monetary compensation for the emails, which — if they were hacked — would have been illegal.
On the other hand, the James Comey FBI is reported to have planned to pay the author of the “dodgy dossier” on Trump $50,000 (a statement the FBI declined this week to confirm or deny), if the former MI6 agent could validate certain allegations from it. In any case, according to CNN, the FBI did reimburse Christopher Steele, the dossier’s author, for some of his expenses.
In retrospect, given the way the U.S. government’s accumulated, all-innuendo material on Trump has been used by his Obama-connected opponents since the election, it’s increasingly clear that the FBI — and NSA — were used by the Obama administration to do opposition research on the Trump campaign. Trying its best, using government assets, the administration was notably unable to come up with anything substantive.
These are people who didn’t care that Hillary Clinton exposed national secrets to Russian hackers for at least three years, or that Hillary and associates like John Podesta (see here as well) had highly questionable financial ties to the Russian government when Hillary was secretary of state.
Yet we’re supposed to care that the Flynn Intel Group may have had some unspecified involvement in the effort by a private citizen to track down Hillary’s 33,000 missing emails, by searching through online hacker forums? Sorry, no sale. At least somebody — Peter W. Smith — was trying to figure out if the wrong people got hold of those emails. (Keep in mind: we knew about Hillary’s use of a private email account in the first place because her emails with Sidney Blumenthal were hacked by “Guccifer” in 2013. It cannot be credibly argued that Blumenthal could be hacked, but Hillary’s private account couldn’t.)
Incidentally, Mr. Smith passed away in May, shortly after he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for its story. Our condolences to his family.