Hackers believed to be Russian discussed how to steal Hillary Clinton's emails from her private email server and transfer them to Michael Flynn via an intermediary, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing reports compiled by US intelligence agencies investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
One of those intermediaries, according to the Journal, may have been a GOP operative named Peter W. Smith — an 80-year-old opposition researcher who assembled a team of technology experts, lawyers and a Russian-speaking investigator in September 2016 to track down hacking groups with access to the 33,000 emails Clinton deleted from her private email server that she said were personal in nature.
Smith cited a working relationship with Flynn's consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, when trying to recruit new team members, the Journal reported. And he told Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched the hacker forums on his behalf, that he was "talking to Michael Flynn" about the project and to let him know if he found anything, according to the Journal.
Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kelner, did not respond to request for comment. Smith told the Journal that the hacking groups who claimed to have the deleted Clinton emails — which he could not verify, and therefore did not publish — were probably Russian.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has been leading the FBI investigation into whether any of Trump's associates colluded with Russia to undermine Clinton during the election.
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.
Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.
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Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone is also being scrutinized over his conversations with a hacker linked to Russian military intelligence, Guccifer 2.0. Stone exchanged private messages with the self-described hacker last August, and his tweets in the days after raised questions about whether he knew in advance that emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, would be imminently published by WikiLeaks.
But Flynn's potential ties to Russia have been of particular interest to the committees because of his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, that eventually led to his ouster.
Russian officials bragged about their close relationship to Flynn last year, according to intercepted communications described to CNN, and boasted that they could use him to influence Trump. The way the Russians were talking about Flynn, said a former Obama administration official, "was a five-alarm fire from early on."
The former national security adviser is under FBI scrutiny and has asked for immunity from the bureau and the congressional intelligence committees in exchange for the freedom to tell his "story." It is unclear whether the bureau has granted Flynn immunity, but the House and Senate Intelligence committees have ruled it out.