WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump pushed in 2016 for obtaining Democratic rival Hillary Clinton's private emails and his campaign was in touch with people who were pursuing them, according to the redacted special counsel's report released Thursday.
On July 27, 2016, Trump said at a campaign rally, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," referring to emails that Clinton said she had deleted from her private server. She had used a private account during her tenure as secretary of state.
Trump also "made this request repeatedly" during the campaign, former national security adviser Michael Flynn told investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller.
Flynn, who later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and cooperated with Mueller's probe, contacted multiple people to see who could help, and found at least one person who already had her own effort underway: longtime GOP Senate staff member Barbara Ledeen. Ledeen began working in concert with Flynn and reporting her findings to him.
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.
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"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 in Trump's presidential transition.
After Trump's July comments about Russia, Smith launched his own effort to find the missing emails.
"He created a company, raised tens of thousands of dollars, and recruited security experts and business associates," the investigation found. Smith also claimed 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," but the special counsel couldn't establish if that was true.
In August 2016, Smith wrote to Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis, among others, about his efforts. "Parties with varying interests, are circling to release [the emails] ahead of the election," Smith said. And as Smith raised thousands of dollars for his efforts, he told potential donors that he was doing his work "in coordination" with the Trump campaign, the special counsel found. The investigation found that Smith communicated directly only with Flynn and Clovis.
Ledeen later told Smith that she believed she had obtained a trove of emails that might be Clinton's. Smith wanted to authenticate them, and Erik Prince, the private military contractor, Trump supporter and brother of current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, "provided funding to hire a tech adviser to ascertain the authenticity of the emails."
According to Prince, the tech adviser determined that the emails were not authentic, the report found. Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that Smith, Ledeen or others in touch with the Trump campaign obtained the Clinton emails.
The special counsel also didn't find evidence that any Trump campaign staff member or associates "initiated or directed Smith's efforts."
Information for this article was contributed by Shane Harris of The Washington Post and by Erik Larson of Bloomberg News.
Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives for a campaign rally in Michigan on Nov. 7, 2016, months after Donald Trump pushed for obtaining her private emails.
A Section on 04/19/2019
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