American GOP donor and party diehard Peter Smith—who’d gone on a personal mission to unearth Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails, claiming to have been in touch with Russian hacking groups—was pronounced to have died by suicide on May 14, about 10 days after an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Thursday was the first that Wall Street Journal reporter Shane Harris learned of the circumstances surrounding his death.
In a follow-up piece published late Thursday night, Harris wrote that little information had been made available aside from the announcement in the obituary:
When the Journal reported on Mr. Smith’s efforts last month, it wasn’t clear how he died. His obituary listed no cause of death, officials in the town where he lived didn’t release information, and messages left at Mr. Smith’s home went unanswered.
Also on Thursday, the Chicago Tribune reported on public records documenting his death in a Minnesota hotel room. Smith, who’d spent his career directing private equity firms, was 81 years old, and amongst a “carefully prepared file of documents,” police found a suicide note explaining that he was ill and his life insurance policy of $5 million was set to run out. The death record shows that Smith was found with a bag over his head and a “source of helium” attached; a Walmart receipt for “Helium Jumbo” was found in the room.
The Tribune reports that he’d written to the authorities that there was “NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER” involving the death, and the police do not believe otherwise.
The Wall Street Journal reporter, on the other hand, tweeted that he had no reason to believe that Smith was ill or suicidal when they spoke (which was, granted, over the phone):
The Journal story paints Smith as a renegade opposition researcher with no known official ties to the Trump campaign, though in his own recruiting emails, Smith repeatedly cited Michael Flynn’s consulting company as an ally. If Smith were to fit into the federal investigation, he would be a candidate–or, at least, a wannabe candidate–for the third-party middleman between Russian hackers and the Trump campaign. Harris writes:
The operation Mr. Smith described is consistent with information that has been examined by U.S. investigators probing Russian interference in the elections.
Those investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence.
Smith said that he’d been offered batches of emails but wasn’t confident enough of their authenticity to release them himself and told hacker groups to give them to WikiLeaks instead.
While Smith had boasted ties to various members of the Trump campaign throughout his personal quest, those now-White House officials either declined to comment or claimed they had no idea what Smith was up to. This, we know.