So here’s the latest big “collusion” story that has been, er, broken by the Wall Street Journal.
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.
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.
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.
Flynn, of course, is the retired army general who became a top Trump campaign surrogate, and who, later and fleetingly, was President Trump’s national security adviser. As the press likes to say, Flynn was sacked over his contacts with Russia, which were the subject of an FBI investigation. What they unfailingly fail to add is that (a) Flynn was fired not because he had contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak but because he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the substance of them; (b) there was nothing inappropriate about Flynn’s having discussions with foreign counterparts during the Trump transition; (c) the FBI investigation targeted not Flynn but Kislyak, who, as an agent of a foreign power, was under FBI surveillance when he spoke with Flynn; and (d) therefore, the FBI recorded the Flynn-Kislyak communications and knew that Flynn had made no commitment to address Russian objections to sanctions imposed by President Obama (i.e., there was no quid pro quo for Russia’s purported contribution to Trump’s election).
General Flynn is loathed by Obama, who fired him as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency; by the Obama-era intelligence-agency chiefs, whom Flynn called out for politicizing intelligence reporting; and by the FBI, against whom Flynn supported an agent who was claiming sexual discrimination. The Obama Justice Department was giddy over the prospect of making a criminal case against Flynn: dispatching the FBI to interrogate him over the Kislyak conversations, and even weighing an indictment of Flynn under the Logan Act, an unconstitutional 18th-century law that bars Americans from free-lancing in foreign policy — a law that is never invoked, has never been successfully prosecuted, and would be especially ludicrous to apply to a transition official.
Flynn, whose judgment leaves much to be desired, has made himself an easy target. Putting aside whether the FBI had a good reason to interrogate him as if he were a criminal suspect, he was reportedly no more candid with the agents than he was with Pence in recounting his Kislyak conversations. He also got grubby after leaving the military in 2014, starting a private intelligence agency that cashed in paydays from outfits tied to the unsavory regimes of Russia and Turkey. There are legal issues stemming from his apparent failures to register as a foreign agent and to disclose what he was paid. In addition, Flynn’s son became so notorious for trading in conspiracy theories that the Trump transition cut ties with him — imagine how out there you’d have to be to get booted from Trump World for incendiary tweeting!
Thus, Flynn has provided Democrats and their media friends with plenty of help advancing the Trump-Russia narrative. The strategy has been transparent for months: Make Flynn radioactive, turn Flynn’s name into a synonym for “collusion,” and, presto, anyone Flynn touches becomes evidence that Trump “coordinated” with Putin to steal the election from Hillary — regardless of whether the anyone in question has anything to do with Trump or Russia.
This week’s Journal report is the latest in this genre. In the interview ten days before his death, Smith claimed to know Flynn but did not implicate Flynn in his “operation.” And what exactly was this “operation”? Like many other people during the campaign stretch-run, Smith convinced himself that someone out there in the cyber-verse must have hacked Clinton’s e-mails. This calculation was based not on a belief that Trump was colluding with Russia, but on Clinton’s own recklessness in using a non-secure server system.
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.
There is every reason to believe the 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.
Understand: None of that is Russia’s fault, or Trump’s, or Flynn’s, or Flynn Jr.’s, or Smith’s. It was solely the fault of Hillary Clinton. She was a five-alarm disaster of a candidate. That’s why she lost.
Starting around Labor Day, Smith undertook to locate these e-mails. The team he assembled included technology experts, lawyers, and — because he suspected Russian hackers (as did everyone else on the planet) — a Europe-based investigator fluent in Russian. Scouring the hacker community, Smith said he located five groups that claimed to possess the e-mails, including two that “he determined were Russians.” I know you’ll shocked to hear this, but Smith apparently identified none of these hacker groups in his Journal interview.
And it all came to . . . what?
Smith claimed that he was offered sample e-mail batches by the five hacker groups. The e-mails, however, did not appear to be authentic, so he didn’t dare leak them. Indeed, assuming these samples really existed, nobody has leaked them — not Smith, not WikiLeaks, and not the five hacker groups themselves.
To summarize: Smith had no proof of Trump–Russia collusion, no proof the Clinton e-mails were hacked, no proof that any e-mails any hackers claimed to possess were the real thing, and no proof that the hackers — assuming they really were hackers — were tied to the Kremlin.
So why is this a story? Because, while Smith did not tell the Journal that Flynn was involved in his “project,” he apparently told other people that he was “talking to Flynn.” He “implied” to other people that Flynn, Flynn’s son, and Flynn’s private intel firm were interested in Hillary’s e-mails.
And why wouldn’t Flynn have been interested?
Other than the media, who wasn’t interested? Trump himself certainly was. The Journal reminds readers of the late July 2016 press conference at which the then-candidate stated, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.” That quip, we all remember, ignited media hysteria about how Trump was encouraging foreign interference in American presidential politics (in a way that the tens of millions of foreign dollars that poured into Clinton Foundation coffers somehow did not).
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!
As the press strains to keep the collusion narrative alive, three things emerge.
First, there plainly was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian regime to meddle in the election. If there had been, it would be unnecessary to trace attenuated, unconsummated arrangements between obscure partisans, anonymous hackers, and nameless intermediaries. There would have been no need for Trump to use a press conference to express hope that Putin would find the missing e-mails. There would have been no need for Flynn and Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law and adviser) to try to set up a back channel to the Kremlin weeks after the November election. If there were anything to the “collusion” tale, the Trump and Putin circles would have had all this covered during the campaign.
Second, there are crimes in these media reports, but the media seems decidedly indifferent about them: Mrs. Clinton’s e-mail follies and the leaking of classified information by government officials.
Finally, there is a quite astonishing variance in the standards of proof applied by Democrats and their media allies. On the one hand, we have damning evidence that Clinton destroyed government files and mishandled classified information. On the other, there is a dearth of evidence that Trump colluded with Russia. Now riddle me this: Who got a complete pass, and who is the earth being scorched to nail?
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.