GOP operative soliciting Russian hackers was bagman for ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’

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The GOP operative leading a team looking for Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing emails—the same ones Donald Trump had publicly implored Russia to find—was active as a Republican bagman in what Hillary Clinton famously called the “vast right-wing conspiracy” during the Bill Clinton-era Troopergate sex scandals.

Chicago financier and leading GOP donor Peter W. Smith last year launched a well-funded quest for Clinton’s missing emails, according to a pair of stories by Shane Harris in the Wall Street Journal. 

During his hunt for the stolen emails Smith told computer specialists he approached that he was working with Michael Flynn, then a top Trump foreign policy adviser, as well as Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon.

Smith, an old Clinton foe and an enthusiastic backer of Trump, died of undisclosed causes less than two weeks after talking to the Journal.

Corroboration for the story came from a former British government intelligence official who said he was approached last summer by the veteran Republican operative to help verify hacked Hillary Clinton emails from a mysterious and most likely Russian source.

The incident, recounted by Matt Tait, who was a information security specialist for  British intelligence (GCHQ) and now runs a private internet security consultancy in the UK, sheds new light on pathways used by the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election in Donald Trump’s favour.

Tait’s account, published on the Lawfare national security blog, shows Republican operative Peter Smith’s willingness to collude with the Russians, as well as possible collusion by Trump aides.

 

Troopergate bagman revealed

In his efforts during the campaign last year, Smith reprised a role he first played in 1992 as a Republican bagman, passing out an estimated $ 80,000 cash while trolling for dirt on Bill Clinton.

“Chicagoan was trooper bagman” was the headline of a United Press International report on March 31, 1998.

“A Chicago banker says he played a pivotal role in getting the so-called ”Troopergate” story into print. Investment banker Peter W. Smith says he paid out $80,000 to two Arkansas troopers and their lawyer as part of a plan to bring sexual misconduct allegations against President Clinton into the mainstream press.

“The story led to the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against Clinton, which led to the special prosecutor’s sex-and-cover-up investigation involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and others.”

A revealing April 10, 1995 story in Crain’s Chicago Business headlined  “NEWT’S DOLE: HIS ILLINOIS PATRONS” stated:

“When Newt Gingrich talks, a lot of people listen these days. What a lot of people don’t know is that when Peter W. Smith talks, Newt Gingrich listens.

Smith started his own political efforts in 1988, organizing the Republican Candidates for the Future Political Action Committee (PAC). Shortly thereafter he met Newt Gingrich.

“I was introduced to him by some people from Goldman Sachs in New York,” said Smith. ”I became a supporter pretty much on the spot.”

“In addition to his support for GOPAC, Mr. Smith is a major backer of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank, as well as a contributor to various GOP candidates for Congress.

“He also hosts lunches in his Wrigley Building offices every month or so for visiting GOP luminaries, such as Mr. Gingrich, Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and noted Republican strategist William Kristol.

“In 1992 Smith began an effort to dig up dirt on Clinton to help re-elect George Bush president.  Although the White House contended there is an anti-Clinton network, Smith said he worked alone.

 

Another lone wolf financier?

Yet there is ample evidence this was not the case, and that Smith was assisted by operatives who were also officials in the Republican party.

For example, Richard W. Porter, a law partner in Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s private practice, provided advice and shared information with Smith’s covert investigation of President Clinton’s sex life conducted between 1992 and 1994.

At the time that Porter first began assisting Smith, he had been directing an opposition research effort against Clinton for the Bush reelection campaign,” Salon magazine reported. Billing records showed Porter was paid for “legal strategy” and prepared a memo on “investigative leads” that could embarrass Clinton.

That Richard W. Porter, a key player in Smith’s efforts, was also Kenneth Starr’s law partner was never admitted in Starr’s statements to the attorney general’s office, which supported Clinton’s assertions that a perjury trap had been set for him.

During the 1992 presidential race, then-President George Bush suggested that Clinton might have done something unpatriotic, saying that Clinton should disclose to voters “how many demonstrations he led against his own country from a foreign soil.”

Salon magazine reported that Smith discussed underwriting an investigative effort to obtain information about a college trip that President Clinton made to the Soviet Union in 1969.

Sources said Smith discussed probing Clinton’s Soviet trip in a meeting with other conservative activists. The sources, two of whom participated in the discussions, said that Clinton’s trip was only one of a number of issues that Smith thought worthy of investigation.

 

“Condolences on your recent death”

Anyone who suspects that the Trump campaign’s defense will be to paint Peter Smith as a “lone wolf financier” may find it profitable to check out the encomiums to Smith that have been left on a ‘Life Tributes’ page at Reuland & Turnbough Funeral Directors in Smith’s hometown of Lake Forest, Illinois.

The first to leave a message of condolence was conservative columnist Charles K. Ortel, who wrote  “Peter was a great American patriot who helped me enormously in an ongoing investigation of the Clinton family charity frauds.”

Ortel, who a financial writer calls “A Harvard MBA Guy out to Bring Down the Clintons,” has often been featured on Breitbart.  A story headlined “Al-Jazeera, Global Jihad, and the Suicide of the West” noted “Cliff Kincaid is holding another one of his amazing press conferences at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.”

“One speaker, Jerry Kenney, an independent television producer, has uncovered evidence of public television stations illegally turning over their airwaves to foreign propaganda channels, including Al-Jazeera and Russia Today (RT) television. He has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over this illegal activity and will tell us all about it.”

Another one of the featured participants was Charles Ortel, “who’s been warning that many initiatives launched by the Obama Administration constitute a “War on Capitalism.”

The War on Capitalism aside, Ortel was obviously out of sympathy with expressions about “public television stations illegally turning over their airwaves to foreign propaganda channels, including Al-Jazeera and Russia Today (RT) television.”

 

“Vault 7: Plan 9 from outer space for nerds

Because when Russia’s Sputnik News wanted to stir up comment about whether the release of WikiLeaks’ “Vault 7” would contain anything comparable to the Iraq War Logs or the Podesta emails, Ortel was only too happy to share his views “on the mysterious “Vault 7″ and secret materials which may find their way out in the near future.”

Ortel responded to Sputnik with what some might say sounds like a winking aside.

“I am happy to try answering your questions with the caveat applying to each of my answers that I am joining you in making educated guesses — I have no connection, direct or indirect, with WikiLeaks or with anyone connected to WikiLeaks.”

“I suspect that the next set of WikiLeaks papers may drop earlier than this coming April — if they are extensive, they may need many days to disseminate this information to the general public,” Ortel said.

Then he serves the main course, noting:

“If Vault 7 is a reference to the 7th Floor at the US State Department (which it may or may not be), then it is possible that the forthcoming release will document more intervention in foreign elections and referenda and show previously unseen communications and deliberations involving US government personnel, possibly including Hillary Clinton, her aides, and other members of the Obama Administration.”

 

Bagman with a mean streak

Republican moneyman Smith was spreading cash around in Arkansas in 1992 in hopes of securing some devastating sex stories. Yet when Hillary Clinton responded to the Monica Lewinsky meltdown by positing a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” she was widely mocked as an X-files-type fantasist.

Journalists also sniffed at disclosures by Salon magazine and elsewhere tracing hundreds of thousands of dollars in conservative money into the pockets of anti-Clinton investigators and operatives like Peter W. Smith.

An In These Times story headlined “Was Hillary Correct? Right-Wing Conspiracies & Hardball Politics” by reporter Robert Perry  reviewed reports of Smith’s efforts to catch Bill Clinton with his pants down, then offered an unexpectedly poignant passage:

“At the time Hillary Clinton told confidants she did not believe any of the troopers’ allegations.

“The troopers’ stories were circulated after one of the troopers was caught by his wife with the telephone number of a woman in his pocket while doing her husband’s laundry, the first lady told friends.

“When the trooper’s wife demanded an explanation, according to the first lady’s version of the story, he falsely said that he had obtained the phone number for the governor. After the incident, Hillary Clinton told her friend stories began to circulate about the troopers assisting Clinton in meeting women.

“Said the friend who was told the story: “You listen to the story and you know that it’s not plausible. But you don’t have the heart to say anything.”

Then, more than 20 years later, it happened again.

That the same Republican moneyman who helped finance the sex scandals during Bill Clinton’s presidency  was leading a search more than 20 years  later for Russian hackers who could deliver Hillary Clinton’s missing emails for public consumption is, for Clinton, a vindication of sorts.

But —whatever you think of her—it is one she finds bittersweet.

 

 

Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.

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3 Responses

  1. Philip Zozzaro says:

    I have been and continue to be a huge fan of your work, Daniel. However, there never would’ve been smoke if Bill Clinton could have learned to exercise some self control. The people who were listed as being part of the vast right wing conspiracy were legitimate journalists such as Sam Smith, Roger Morris, Sally Denton and others. Your work primarily among others has highlighted the Clinton corruption. Troopergate was just a footnote to the Clinton scandals. The Trump administration has been flawed from the word “go”, but the leaked emails just vindicate the distrust in the Hillary Clinton campaign. If any Russians had any direct impact on the election, it would be the organized crime elements. I think your work and Wayne Madsen’s has highlighted that in the most crucial ways.

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