When a GOP operative with alleged ties to the Trump campaign sought last year to obtain emails missing from Hillary Clinton‘s private email server, he turned to an independent security expert to help validate them.
That’s according to Matt Tait, the CEO and founder of UK-based security consultant firm Capital Alpha Security, who on Friday opened up about the GOP operative’s attempts to recruit him last spring.
According to Tait, writing his account for Lawfare, he strongly believed that not only was the operative, Peter Smith, communicating with Russian hackers, but his operation was formed with the “blessing” of at least some members of now-President Trump’s campaign.
Prior to last year’s presidential election, Smith put together a team of lawyers, tech experts and Russian-speaking investigators in an attempt to obtain 33,000 private emails that had been deleted from Clinton’s private server.
Smith has since told The Wall Street Journal that he believed Clinton’s private email server had been hacked by Russians. The operation allegedly formed under the assumption Clinton was attempting to hide information in the emails and that they could uncover it by obtaining the hacked copies.
Tait wrote that he believed the team “was formed with the blessing of the Trump campaign.”
Smith cited several Trump campaign officials during his recruitment attempt, Tait alleges, including Trump’s former national security adviser and then-adviser Michael Flynn, now-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, now-counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and now-Agriculture Department policy adviser Sam Clovis.
Several of those names appeared on a document specifying the mission and scope of Smith’s operation dated Sept. 7, 2016 that was obtained by the Journal.
“Smith and his associates’ knowledge of the inner workings of the campaign were insightful beyond what could be obtained by merely attending Republican events or watching large amounts of news coverage,” Tait wrote.
Smith allegedly described infighting and tension within Trump’s campaign to Tait, and also told him that “Trump often just repeats whatever he’s heard from the last person who spoke to him.”
Smith, the White House and a Trump campaign official have all denied that the operative or his team worked for them. The operative, Smith, has since died.
Smith’s team “appeared to be convinced of the need to obtain Clinton’s private emails and make them public, and they had a reckless lack of interest in whether the emails came from a Russian cut-out,” Tait wrote in his account.
“Indeed, they made it quite clear to me that it made no difference to them who hacked the emails or why they did so, only that the emails be found and made public before the election,” he continued.
Tait never saw any of the alleged emails. Smith told the Journal he did obtain some emails but was unable to verify them. He also said that his investigation found five hacking groups that claimed to have Clinton’s private emails, and that he determined that at least two of those groups were Russian.
Former FBI Director James Comey said last year in his recommendation against prosecuting Clinton that the private server did not appear to have been hacked.
Since the timing of the events Tait alleges, Flynn was forced to resign as Trump’s national security adviser in February amid revelations that he misled Vice President Pence and other White House officials about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
An ongoing FBI probe into whether Russia attempted to hack the 2016 presidential election exists, as well as investigations into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin.