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The Wall Street Journal: House Democrats to Step Up Probe of Trump-Russia Ties

Nov 16, 2018
In the News

A link to this article can be found here.

House Democrats, poised to reactivate a probe of President Trump’s campaign ties to Russia, said this week that an investigatory priority is learning more about a Republican activist who sought 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s private emails, and whether he served as a conduit between the Trump campaign and Russia-tied groups.

“That is an area of continuing interest for us,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), who is expected to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee when Democrats regain control of the House in January, said in an interview. “In fact, that’s one of the areas that we’ve been able to make progress” on, despite Republican attempts to end the probe.

Mr. Schiff declined to detail what more the panel has learned. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the GOP activist, Peter W. Smith, who died in 2017, secretly raised $100,000 to secure emails deleted from Mrs. Clinton’s private computer server, and that he struck up a professional relationship with Mike Flynn, then a Trump aide, who later pleaded guilty in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Another priority Mr. Schiff identified is to determine any financial relationship between the Trump Organization and Russian entities or individuals. Mr. Trump, his company and the Kremlin all have denied collusion or other improper ties.

The House Intelligence Committee probe into Russia’s role in the election ground to a virtual halt last year. Majority Republicans tried to shift its focus from possible Trump-Russia collusion to what they said was a flawed and biased Justice Department probe.

Mr. Schiff said the parameters of the panel’s work would be guided partly by the status in January of Mr. Mueller’s criminal investigation.

“But our intention would be to look at those areas that we were precluded from getting answers,” he said. “And there are entire investigative threads which the Republicans refused to pursue because they thought it too threatening to the president.”

Jack Langer, a spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), current chairman of the House Intelligence panel, said Democrats “claimed nearly two years ago to have ‘more than circumstantial’ evidence of collusion. So instead of investigating new conspiracy theories, they should finally reveal the bombshell evidence they claim to already have.”

Democrats have said Republican lawmakers blocked the inquiry and cooperated with the White House to short-circuit the probe.

Another Democratic committee member, Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois, said in an interview that Mr. Smith’s activities are “very ripe” for investigation. The key question, he said, is whom, if anyone, Mr. Smith was communicating with in Mr. Trump’s orbit.

Mr. Trump this week resumed his attacks on Mr. Mueller, who many on Capitol Hill are anticipating soon will announce new indictments after a lull surrounding the midterm elections.

Mr. Smith, a Chicago businessman active in Republican politics, funded his effort to find Mrs. Clinton’s missing emails in the fall of 2016. Emails reviewed by the Journal show he raised money from associates and began making inquiries to experts about how to obtain the emails from the so-called dark web, which provides users with anonymity.

Mr. Smith died in a Minnesota hotel room in 2017 in what authorities ruled a suicide, weeks after telling friends that he believed he had obtained the missing emails, the Journal previously reported. He spoke to a Journal reporter shortly before his death, describing his quest to find Mrs. Clinton’s emails.

His activities also have been scrutinized by Mr. Mueller, according to witnesses in the probe.

Mr. Smith said that he met with hackers in suburban Washington, D.C., according to one of his former associates. “I was told by Smith that he met with several groups of hackers in a suburban Washington hotel on the weekend of August 27-8, 2016. I have no idea what he meant by ‘several’ nor did I ask him for clarification,” said John Szobocsan, a friend and business partner who worked closely with Mr. Smith during 2016.

Mr. Smith was in contact with powerful Republicans in Mr. Trump’s orbit into the final months of his life, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Mr. Flynn and others, according to interviews and the emails reviewed by the Journal.

The emails show Mr. Smith brainstormed about business ventures involving Mr. Flynn and later went so far as to copy Mr. Flynn’s government-provided email account on a message to Mr. Trump’s incoming defense secretary, Mr. Mattis. In February 2016, Mr. Smith wrote to a friend to discuss “a possible way into cybersecurity to involve Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn.”

An attorney for Mr. Flynn declined to comment. The Pentagon also declined to comment.

Other emails that Mr. Flynn is copied on show Mr. Smith either communicating directly with high-level Trump administration officials and allies or discussing such connections.