A Republican opposition researcher searching for then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s missing emails reached out to several Russian-led hacking groups and implied that any information on them would be given to Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn—then a senior adviser for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, according to a new report.
The operative, Peter W. Smith—who died shortly after speaking to the Wall Street Journal—found five groups of hackers who claimed to possess Clinton’s emails, including two groups he determined to be Russian, the paper reported.
“We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government,” Smith told WSJ.
Smith, who did not work for Trump’s campaign but has a history of working on Republican causes, implied that he was working with Flynn in his hunt for the emails.
“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” Eric York, a computer-security expert who searched hacker forums for Smith, told the paper.
Smith’s operation is similar to something investigators probing Russian ties to the Trump campaign and interference in the 2016 election have examined, the newspaper reports. Investigators have looked into reports that show Russian hackers discussing how to obtain Clinton’s emails and give them to Flynn through a middle-man, according to the WSJ.
Smith’s project began around Labor Day 2016, he told the Journal, shortly after WikiLeaks released emails taken from the Democratic National Committee that intelligence officials say were obtained by Russian government-backed hackers.
On an email the Journal reviewed that was intended to get experts to join his cause, Smith offered to introduce them to Flynn’s son.
The Wall Street Journal’s report comes as the probe into whether or not Trump’s campaign had ties with Russia during the 2016 election continues to grow.
Flynn was a top adviser on Trump’s campaign and was later named a national security adviser as part of Trump’s administration before he was forced to resign for misrepresenting communications with a Russian ambassador to Vice President Mike Pence.