NEWS
03/08/2017 20:54 SAST | Updated 03/08/2017 20:58 SAST

The Curious Case Of Peter W. Smith

A wealthy billionaire GOP donor adds another wrinkle to an already complicated saga.

Who Was Peter Smith?
A Chicago investment banker and longtime Republican operative known for funding and conducting opposition research on the Clintons. Smith told The Wall Street Journal in May that he'd worked during the 2016 election to track down emails he believed Russian hackers had stolen from Hillary Clinton's private server.

Smith died in May, shortly after the Journal interviewed him but before it published its story on Smith's work during the campaign. His death was ruled a suicide. A note beside his body read that there was "no foul play whatsoever" involved in his death, and that he'd taken his own life due to a "recent bad turn in health care."
What Did He Do?
In his quest to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails, Smith reportedly reached out to a number of hacker groups, including a pair with links to the Russian government. Smith's associates later told the Journal that they understood he had also been working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who was then serving as a senior adviser to Trump's campaign.

Smith also told the Journal that he'd actually received emails from the hackers but was not confident of their authenticity and instead suggested the hackers pass the emails to WikiLeaks.
Why Did It Matter?
In a blog post in June, security consultant Max Tait wrote that Smith had reached out to him for help tracking down Clinton emails. Tait said that Smith appeared unconcerned about the possibility that he was playing into a broader Russian effort to help Trump win.

"In my conversations with Smith and his colleague, I tried to stress this point: if this dark web contact is a front for the Russian government, you really don’t want to play this game," Tait said. "But they were not discouraged. They 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." 

Although both Flynn and the Trump campaign have denied having any official involvement with Smith or his efforts, security experts have raised the prospect that Smith may have served as an intermediary responsible for passing sensitive material from Russian hackers to Trump officials.
What Was The Fallout?
Smith's admitted contact with Russian hackers has further bolstered allegations of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

His death has also spawned a variety of outlandish conspiracy theories, with people blaming everyone from Clinton to the Russian government.