WASHINGTON (AP) — Russian hackers discussed during the 2016 presidential campaign whether they could obtain emails pilfered from Hillary Clinton and ultimately get them to an adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, according to a report published Thursday by The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal said investigators probing Russian meddling in the election have examined intelligence agency reports about how hackers wanted to get emails from Clinton's server to an intermediary and then to Mike Flynn, a retired lieutenant general and senior adviser to Trump who went on to serve briefly as his national security adviser. The newspaper also references a Republican operative who was convinced emails missing from Clinton's server were in the hands of Russian hackers, and who implied in conversations that he was working with Flynn.
The newspaper said it was not clear whether Flynn played any role in the quest of the operative, Peter W. Smith, who died shortly after speaking with the newspaper. The Journal said Flynn did not respond to requests, the White House declined comment, and the campaign said Smith never worked for it and that any such action undertaken by Flynn, if true, was not on its behalf.
Congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller are investigating Russian influence in the election and potential coordination with the Trump campaign. Russia has been blamed for pilfering emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and of the DNC.
But the newspaper said Smith and the hackers were focused on some 33,000 emails that Clinton said had been deleted and that Smith believed, with no proof, were acquired by hackers. Officials have said there is no evidence Clinton's private email server was hacked.
Smith told the newspaper that he was unsure of the authenticity of emails hackers eventually did send to him and he told them to pass them to WikiLeaks, the same outfit that published the emails taken from Podesta and the committee.
"We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government," Smith told the newspaper. He died on May 14 at 81, about less than two weeks after being interviewed.
In emails Smith sent to potential recruits for his project, and which the newspaper reviewed, he referenced Flynn and Flynn's son, Michael G. Flynn, several times.
Mike Flynn was fired after less than a month because of revelations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with Russia's ambassador to the United States.