WASHINGTON ― In a famous appearance on NBC’s “Today” show in 1998, then-first lady Hillary Clinton described a “vast right-wing conspiracy” working to bring down her husband’s administration. It turns out that one of the key figures from that conspiracy also spent his final years of life trying to keep Clinton herself out of the White House.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Chicago-area financier Peter W. Smith attempted to obtain emails purportedly stolen from Clinton’s private server by hackers. The Journal reports that Smith, who died last month at the age of 81, repeatedly stated he was working with Michael Flynn, then an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and later the shortest-serving national security adviser in U.S. history. Trump fired Flynn after it came to light that he had lied to the administration about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
There is no evidence that Clinton’s private email server was ever hacked, despite Smith’s attempts to find and publicize emails stolen from it. Smith’s reported pursuit of these emails may have been a fool’s errand ― much like his conspiratorial pursuits in the 1990s.
At least four U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian intelligence services hacked email servers used by the Democratic National Committee, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It would be a violation of campaign finance laws, which prohibit foreign influence in U.S. elections, to provide “substantial assistance” to any foreign actor ― i.e., any state, company or individual person ― to influence a U.S. election.
Smith had long been part of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” through his work as a fundraiser for the conservative Heritage Foundation and as the chief fundraiser for Newt Gingrich’s political action committee in the 1980s and 1990s.
Beginning in 1992, Smith funded various research projects to publicize negative stories about President Bill Clinton. He paid Arkansas state troopers, allegedly to help with their finances in case they were retaliated against, and helped publicize the troopers’ claims that Clinton forced troopers to arrange his trysts with women and hide those relationships from his wife. Smith introduced these troopers to David Brock, then a conservative reporter with The American Spectator, who penned an article based on their statements. Brock later became an ardent Clinton defender and apologized for the article, claiming that the payments Smith made to the troopers tainted their version of events. Smith also paid Brock $5,000 for another research project that never came to fruition.
Brock’s article was, however, the first to introduce a woman named “Paula” ― that is, Paula Jones ― to a national audience. Jones’ lawsuit against the president over sexual harassment ultimately led to his testimony regarding Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern he had an affair with, and his 1998 impeachment. Clinton was asked about his relationship with Lewinsky during his sworn testimony in the Jones case. He denied having a relationship with her, which was not true. Congressional Republicans brought articles of impeachment against him for lying under oath.
In 1997, Lewinsky confidante Linda Tripp approached her lawyers with concerns that she may have broken the law in surreptitiously recording her conversations with the White House intern about her presidential affair. Tripp’s lawyers reached out to Smith to help figure out how she could get in touch with special prosecutor Ken Starr to get immunity in exchange for her testimony. It was Smith’s legal associates, Richard Porter and Jerome Marcus, who helped make that connection, which provided evidence of the president’s affair with Lewinsky and his subsequent admission.
Smith also pursued a number of other lines of conspiratorial research into Bill Clinton, according to reporting from journalists Murray Waas and Joe Conason. He attempted to dig up evidence that Clinton had fathered an illegitimate African-American child ― a fake story that Trump supporters tried to resurrect during the 2016 presidential campaign. Smith also sought to publicize false stories that Clinton used Arkansas state troopers to traffic cocaine through the state, and tried in 1996 to obtain information about Clinton’s 1969 trip to the Soviet Union that he thought would have revealed Clinton’s radical, communist history.
Smith’s final foray into Clinton research in 2016 appears to have been just as fanciful as some of his pursuits in the 1990s. According to The Wall Street Journal, he hired computer security experts to probe hacker forums for the 33,000 deleted emails from Clinton’s private server. Per the report, Smith “theorized” that these emails were stolen, even though in reality there was no evidence the server was ever successfully hacked.
These were the same emails that Trump publicly asked Russia to find in a July 2016 press conference. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said then. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”