Today in collusion

Lee Smith notes in his Tablet column “The strange tale of Jay Solomon” that the news side of the Wall Street Journal is straining to join the opposition to the Trump administration led by the Washington Post and the New York Times. “As one senior D.C. reporter told me recently,” Lee writes, “‘lots of Journal reporters want to join the anti-Trump resistance but they can’t do that because the editorial board thinks the Trump Russia narrative is absurd, as does the readership.’”

In yesterday’s paper, the Journal made a downpayment on membership dues in the Resistance with Shane Harris’s story “GOP operative sought Clinton emails from hackers, implied a connection to Flynn.” Harris’s story is behind the Journal’s subscription paywall, but the New York Post has an accessible summary by Todd Venezia here.

Andy McCarthy breaks down Harris’s story in his weekly NRO column here. Here is his summary and first pass at it:

About ten days before he died in mid-May, an 81-year-old man who did not work for the Trump campaign told the Journal he had speculated that, but did not know whether, 33,000 of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails had been hacked from her homebrew server. The now-deceased man, “a longtime Republican opposition researcher” named Peter W. Smith, had theorized that the e-mails must have been stolen, “likely by Russian hackers.” But he had no idea if this was actually so, and he himself certainly had nothing to do with stealing them.

Smith’s desire to obtain the hacked emails, if there were any, peaked around Labor Day 2016 — i.e., during the last weeks of the campaign. This was many months after the FBI had taken physical custody of Clinton’s homebrew server and other devices containing her e-mails. It was also two months after the Bureau’s then-director, James Comey, had told the country that the FBI had found no evidence that Clinton had been hacked . . . but that her carelessness about communications security, coupled with the proficiency of hackers in avoiding detection, meant her e-mails could well have been compromised throughout her years as secretary of state.

In other words, Peter W. Smith was one of about 320 million people in the United States who figured that Clinton’s e-mails had been hacked — by Russia, China, Iran, ISIS, the NSA, the latest iteration of “Guccifer,” and maybe even that nerdy kid down at Starbucks with “Feel the Bern” stickers on his laptop.

Besides having no relationship with Trump, Smith also had no relationship with the Russian regime. Besides not knowing whether the Clinton e-mails were actually hacked, he also had no idea whether the Kremlin or anyone close to Vladimir Putin had obtained the e-mails. In short, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you whether Trump and Putin were colluding with each other because he wasn’t colluding with either one of them.

But — here comes the blockbuster info — Smith was colluding with Michael Flynn. Or at least he kinda, sorta was . . . except for, you know, the Journal’s grudging acknowledgement that, well, okay, Smith never actually told the paper that Flynn was involved in what the report calls “Smith’s operation.”

It’s a long column. As ancient history is involved, Andy helpfully fills in the backstory to Harris’s article:

The Journal does not see fit to remind readers that the 33,000 e-mails Smith was trying to dig up were the ones Clinton had tried to destroy, even though they contained records of government business (which it is a felony to destroy), contained at least some classified information (which it is a felony to mishandle), and had been requested by congressional committees (whose proceedings it is a felony to obstruct by destroying evidence).

These penal inconveniences aside, there were also explosive political implications. Clinton had insisted that the e-mails in question were strictly of a personal nature, involving yoga routines, daughter Chelsea’s wedding, and the like. She maintained that she had turned over any and all government-related e-mails to the State Department. She had also laughably claimed that her homebrew server system was adequately secure. And there is every reason to believe many of these destroyed e-mails related to Clinton Foundation business — the Bill and Hill scheme to monetize their “public service” — which was liberally commingled with government business during Mrs. Clinton’s State Department tenure. Public disclosure of these e-mails, then, would have been very damaging, concretely demonstrating her dishonesty and unfitness.

Harris has the goods on crimes committed in connection with his story, but Harris won’t be revealing the perpetrators:

All this sound and fury turns out to be throat-clearing. The juicy news in the Journal’s report is not about Smith; it stems from yet another leak of classified information. According to “U.S. investigators” involved in the Russia probe (i.e., the Mueller investigation), there are intelligence reports that “describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain e-mails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary.”

Who are these investigators? The Journal doesn’t tell us — the actual crime of leaking classified intelligence being of less interest than the non-crime of “collusion.” The purported Russian hackers are not identified either. Nor is Flynn’s “intermediary” — the Journal cannot say whether the leak is accurate, whether there really was an intermediary, or whether Smith could have been the intermediary. There is, moreover, no indication that any supposed Russian hacker actually made any effort to obtain the Clinton e-mails, much less that Flynn — let alone Trump — had any knowledge of or involvement in such an effort.

Quick: somebody start writing up the articles of impeachment!

Well, Harris is still on the case. The Journal has his follow-up story today (with Michael Bender and Peter Nicholas).

At the same time, Lawfare has posted the first-person account of Matt Tait, Harris’s source. “I was involved in the events that reporter Shane Harris described, and I was an unnamed source for the initial story,” Tait writes. “What’s more, I was named in, and provided the documents to Harris that formed the basis of, th[e] follow-up story…” Tait’s account is full of smoke, including the assumption that Smith had obtained the deleted Clinton emails from an unnamed person representing the “dark web.”

Tait puts it this way: “[Smith] said that his team had been contacted by someone on the ‘dark web’; that this person had the emails from Hillary Clinton’s private email server (which she had subsequently deleted), and that Smith wanted to establish if the emails were genuine.” Tait thereafter assumes that Smith had obtained the deleted emails.

“In the end,” Tait concedes, “I never saw the actual materials they’d been given, and to this day, I don’t know whether there were genuine emails, or whether Smith and his associates were deluding themselves.” Tait to the contrary notwithstanding, I can find nothing in Tait’s column to suggest he knows whether Smith had in fact obtained the deleted Clinton emails. Tait adds that it’s possible, after all, that “Smith” only “talked a very good game.”

The Brookings Institute is promoting Tait’s first-hand mystifications as some kind of a contribution this morning. That’s how I was alerted to it. Andy McCarthy hasn’t gotten to Harris’s follow-up story or to Tait’s account yet, but I think his comment in the NRO column applies generally to Harris’s follow-up Journal article and Tait’s account: “If you’re confused, I’d ordinarily suggest that you go back and read the report a time or two. But life is short and rereading would not much clarify this spaghetti bowl hurled against the wall, in the hope that some of the Flynn sauce might stick.”

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