Peter W. Smith, 81, was found dead just 10 days after he admitted to trying to get Hillary Clinton’s missing emails from Russian hackers. He left a note behind in all caps saying there was “NO FOUL PLAY” involved. His death has now become the subject of quite a few conspiracies, from both the Clinton side and the Trump side. Just before he died, he wrote a personal blog post about Russia.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. After an Interview With the Wall Street Journal, He Was Found Dead with a Note that Said ‘NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER’
After Smith talked to the Wall Street Journal about how he was trying to get Hillary Clinton’s missing emails from Russia hackers, he was found dead just 10 days later, on May 14. The stories were published in late June. The reporter said at the time that he believed Smith died of natural causes and wasn’t killed. But the Chicago Tribune learned from a death record that Smith had committed suicide.
Smith was found with a bag tied over his head, attached to a helium source. A funeral home employee said they saw a helium tank in his room. The employee told The Chicago Tribune that it was about the size of a propane tank.
Smith was found in a hotel near the Mayo Clinic on Sunday, May 14. The cause of death was listed as: “asphyxiation due to displacement of oxygen in confined space with helium.” The Rochester Police Chief had said the cause of death was “unusual,” according to The Chicago Tribune. But others said the method was fairly well known.
Police found a note left behind by Smith, written in all caps, The Chicago Tribune reported. The note included the following:
NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER…
RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017…
LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION EXPIRING.
Smith left behind a wife, Janet L. Smith, three children and three grandchildren. His will gives his interest in his residential and personal property to his wife, and the rest of his assets will be placed in two trusts.
It’s not known what was wrong with Smith’s health. A former employee thought he had a heart condition that was being treated, but a Mayo clinic spokeswoman would not confirm.
The death certificate wasn’t easy to obtain. In early July, The Palmer Report shared that they were having trouble tracking it down, because state law typically only let you file a request for a death certificate if you were claiming property related to the death.
2. He Said He Found Five Groups of Hackers Who Claimed to Have the Emails
Smith was on a quest to get Hillary Clinton’s emails and he thought Russian hackers were his best bet, he told The Wall Street Journal. He had assembled his team in September 2016, before the election, theorizing that the emails might have been stolen from her private server. He was specifically wanting the 30,000 personal emails that Clinton had deleted.
He told The Wall Street Journal that he found five groups of hackers, including two Russian groups, who claimed to have the missing emails.
He also implied that he had been working with retired Lt. Gen Mike Flynn while Flynn was an advisor to Trump. He told a computer expert who was working for him at the time that he was talking to Flynn about his research. When he spoke with The Wall Street Journal, Smith only said that he knew Flynn but did not say Flynn was involved in his investigation.
Some have said that Smith might be the missing link in a Trump-Russia probe, if he was collaborating with Trump’s campaign while trying to get the emails. He said he was working independently.
3. Smith Did Opposition Research on Other Politicians in the Past, Including Bill Clinton
This wasn’t Smith’s first time researching a political opponent. The Republican had a history of doing opposition research on politicians, including Bill Clinton. He played a role in exposing some allegations about Bill Clinton’s sex life, namely Troopergate, along with wanting to look into a trip Bill Clinton had taken to the Soviet Union in 1969, The Chicago Tribune reported. He later said he had spent $80,000 back then trying to get negative information about Bill Clinton into the mainstream media.
Smith had worked in public affairs for more than 60 years, and was also an investment banker managing mergers and acquisitions.
But he was especially known for his work with Republicans. A 1995 Craig’s Chicago Business article said that he was a confidante of Newt Gingrich and was one of his earliest supporters, donating more than $109,000 since 1989. The article went on to say that he hosted lunches in the Wrigley Building for “visiting GOP luminaries.”
In a hacked email released on DC Leaks, Smith wrote in October 2015 about how he had a great talk with Matt Boyle, Washington Political Editor for Breitbart, about “the Speaker story” and how the story would “bubble over weekend and bloom on Monday.” This referenced a story that was going to try to force Paul Ryan out of his role as Speaker of the House.
Smith said he wasn’t upset about his emails possibly being hacked. “I’m not upset at all. I try in my communications, quite frankly, not to say anything that would be embarrassing if made public.”
4. Smith Actively Disagreed on His Blog About Russia Interfering with the Election, and Wrote a Post About It the Day Before He Died
Smith spent a great deal of time on his blog, PeterWSmith.com, disagreeing with the idea that Russians interfered with the election. Although his website is currently down, a look at Internet Archive reveals his posts. He wrote two the day before he died. One headline read: “Three Agencies, Not 17, Behind Russian Interference Allegations.”
On May 6 he wrote: “Tinfoil Hat Coalition Reaches End of Life with Trump-Russia Connection.” The post reads:
His blog posts alternated between support and advice for Trump and disagreements with the Democratic Party and mainstream stories about Russia. He had been posting on his blog since November 11, 2016, but in recent times his posts were getting shorter and shorter.
5. His Death Has Been the Subject of Conspiracy Theories
Peter W. Smith’s death was immediately the subject of conspiracy theories, and the note he left behind has done nothing to quell them.
Some of the conspiracies stem from the long-running conspiracy about “Clinton body bags” and rumors that people who had incriminating evidence died. Snopes covered these rumors extensively. But his death is also sparking rumors from the opposite side, based on his possible connections to Trump. It seems that everyone is finding a reason to talk about Smith’s death.
Here are some reactions currently circulating online to the latest news about Smith: