Man, and here was me thinking I was going to get to take the weekend off.
Okay, so, Thursday, the Wall Street Journal broke a big old story, “GOP Operative Sought Clinton Emails From Hackers, Implied a Connection to Flynn.” (Outline.com mirror, Screenshots.)
The upshot of this article is that Peter W. Smith, a GOP opposition researcher, was, just prior to the election in 2016, on the hunt for those 30-some thousand emails that were deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Smith seemed to be working with retired and disgraced former Trump toady Lt. General Michael Flynn to find those emails and get them in the hands of the Trump campaign before the election. Smith appeared to be trying to get the emails from Russian hackers who claimed to have them, but he couldn’t get the emails authenticated well enough to suit him, so the project petered out.
This is a big deal because it may point towards evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers.
Yesterday evening the Wall Street Journal dumped another big story, “GOP Activist Who Sought Clinton Emails Cited Trump Campaign Officials.” (Outline.com mirror, screenshots.)
To summarize this article, Smith reached out to British information and cyber security expert Matt Tait to try to get Tait to help authenticate the supposed Clinton emails Smith had gotten from Russian hackers. While trying to recruit Tait, Smith showed Tait some documents that seemed to insinuate that Smith was in contact with, or maybe working with, several upper-level Trump campaign staffers on this email project. Named in the document were “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.”
The document the Wall Street Journal is reporting on doesn’t definitively prove that Smith was working with the Trump campaign. In fact, the document may be some BS Smith whipped up to recruit Tait. It’s unsure. But it looks bad.
The WSJ doesn’t actually name Matt Tait. The reason we know Tait’s the guy is because Tait went to Lawfare to tell his side of the story after the WSJ article broke: “The Time I Got Recruited to Collude with the Russians.”
Again, Lawfare is an expert blog affiliated with the Brookings Institution, run by national security experts, with an exceptional reputation. I’m not sending you to some hack’s BS Livejournal, here. Lawfare is the real deal.
Also worth noting, Matt Tait is @pwnallthethings, the infosec/cybersec expert on Twitter who got Twitter famous (and semi-real life famous) for his analysis of a lot of the hacked documents that came out about Clinton during the election. This guy is also the real deal, with an excellent reputation. I’m not sending you to read crap from somebody’s IT intern, here.
So, to sum up Tait’s article, he explains how he was contacted by Smith, what Smith showed him, and talks about how he got the distinct impression that Smith was, indeed, working specifically with the Trump campaign to get the emails and release them. He talks about how Smith told him he was contacted by hackers from the “dark web” about these emails, about how knowledgeable and in the loop and involved with the Trump campaign Smith seemed to be, and about how Tait explained to Smith that he was probably getting these documents from Russian government hackers, and how Smith didn’t care. Smith just wanted the emails confirmed and released, and didn’t give a crap if they came from a foreign government attempting to hack an American election.
Tait immediately noped out of the whole situation, like any sane person would. Also, he doesn’t go into a huge amount of detail, probably because he’s going to end up testifying in front of Congress about the whole mess.
So what does this all mean? Well, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo (another smart guy with a great rep writing for the excellent news site he started) wrote an overview of the sitch here that’s worth a read: “This Is Big.”
This reads to me like the kind of story that rapidly shakes out a lot of new information. Every big press outfit in the country must be yanking on all the dangling threads even as I write. This certainly sounds like just the kind of attempt to work with the Russian subversion campaign that many have long suspected. It connects up with people at the highest level of the Trump campaign. It looks like strong evidence of attempted collusion by people at least in the orbit of the Trump campaign and quite likely in communication with people at the highest echelons of the campaign.
and goes on to qualify that statement by warning that there’s a lot yet to discover about this story, and that it’s not (yet) definitive proof of anything.
But it sure doesn’t look good, folks.