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Trump's Requests for Clinton Emails Led to Dark Web and Hackers

Erik Larson

Donald Trump repeatedly requested his presidential campaign to unearth Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails, setting in motion a frenzied search that was detailed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

The effort led to discussions about working with foreign intelligence agencies, hackers and the dark web, according to the report released Thursday.

Michael Flynn, a campaign aide who later became the president’s first national security adviser, led a 2016 effort to get the emails, at Trump’s request, the report said. The goal was to damage his Democratic rival.

Flynn, who later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and cooperated with Mueller’s probe, contacted multiple people to see who could help — even as Trump publicly mocked Clinton over her use of a personal email server and publicly asked Russia to help find them. He told Mueller that request was made “in jest and sarcastically.”

Flynn found at least one person who already had her own effort underway: longtime GOP Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen. Ledeen began working in concert with Flynn and reporting her findings back to him.

‘Purloined’ by Enemies

She got in touch with Peter Smith, an investment adviser who was active in Republican politics, according to the report. Ledeen told Smith that the missing emails were classified and had been “purloined by our enemies” and suggested enlisting an unnamed third party to help, according to Mueller’s report.

“The person can get the emails,” Ledeen said in an email to Smith, according to the report. “That would demonstrate what needs to be demonstrated.”

Ledeen’s email included a 25-page proposal speculating that Clinton’s inbox had been breached “long ago” and that the intelligence services of China, Russia and Iran could “re-assemble the server’s email content,” according to Mueller’s report. She proposed coordinating with unspecified intelligence sources who could then work with their contacts in foreign services “to determine if any of those services had gotten to the server.”

“Even if a single email was recovered and the providence [sic] of that email was a foreign service, it would be catastrophic to the Clinton campaign,” Ledeen said in her message to Smith, according to the report. Ledeen is married to Michael Ledeen, who was a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s presidential transition.

Ledeen eventually obtained a trove of emails from the “dark web” that she believed might have belonged to Clinton, according to the report. Erik Prince, an informal Trump adviser, gave Ledeen money to hire a tech adviser to analyze the messages, which were later determined to not be authentic, according to Mueller’s report.

Mueller said Smith, the investment adviser, declined to participate in Ledeen’s initiative but then “tried to locate and obtain the emails himself.” Smith “created a company, raised tens of thousands of dollars, and recruited security experts and business associates,” Mueller’s report said.

Russian Hackers

Smith said to people involved in his effort “that he was in contact with hackers with ‘ties and affiliations to Russia’ who had access to the emails, and that his efforts were coordinated with the Trump Campaign,” Mueller said.

Smith claimed in an August 2016 email from an encrypted account that parties “with varying interests are circling to release ahead of the election,” Mueller’s report concluded.

“It is clear that the Clinton’s home-based, unprotected server was hacked with ease by both State-related players, and private mercenaries,” Smith is reported to have said in the message.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Smith had committed suicide in May 2017 in a hotel room in Minnesota.

Mueller’s report found the efforts to find Clinton’s emails failed, though hacked emails ultimately were released through WikiLeaks.

“The investigation did not establish that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers or that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton emails,” according to the report.