The mysterious May 14 death of veteran GOP opposition researcher Peter W. Smith has been added to the Trump-Clinton-Russia conspiracy puzzle. The circumstances and timing of Smith’s alleged suicide, along with what is known of his efforts to obtain Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, adds intrigue and speculation to an already convoluted chapter in the story of the 2016 presidential election. In death, Smith has become a political football as observers on both the left and the right engage in what is, at this point, unverified and unsubstantiated conjecture.
Smith, an 81-year-old financier from Lake Forest, Illinois, was found dead in a hotel suite in Rochester, Minnesota. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, he was found with a plastic bag attached to a helium tank over his head. Helium is a non-toxic gas, but it speeds up the depletion of oxygen; it is not an uncommon method of suicide, although The Tribune reports that Rochester Police chief Roger Peterson described the death as unusual. Smith’s activities relating to the presidential election could suggest that this was no ordinary suicide, however. Days earlier, he had spoken with the Wall Street Journal about his efforts to obtain the 33,000 emails Hillary Clinton failed to turn over to the investigation into her use of a private server as Secretary of State. He believed that the emails related to Clinton’s official duties – something Clinton herself has denied – and that he could acquire copies from Russian hackers.
The Tribune obtained a copy of the official death record and additionally reported that police recovered a suicide note from the scene. In it, Smith apparently stated that his death involved “No foul play whatsoever.” He also wrote that his action was the result of ill health and the impending expiration of a life insurance policy.
Smith had a history of targeting the Clintons, including a role in exposing the Troopergate scandal, which involved allegations of sexual impropriety against President Bill Clinton. He was a well-connected GOP donor but had no active part in the Donald Trump campaign. Reports suggest that he considered General Michael Flynn, disgraced former National Security Advisor for Trump, an ally. There is nothing to confirm that Smith and Flynn actively cooperated, however.
Smith was known to be a critic of the theory that Russia had interfered in the U.S. presidential election. In a blog post, published the day before his death, he wrote: “As attention turns to international affairs, as it will shortly, the Russian interference story will die of its own weight.”
Stories of the untimely deaths and improbable suicides of people connected with the Clintons have swirled for years. In each case, the victim – or suicide – had been on the verge of revealing information that would implicate Bill and/or Hillary Clinton in some scandal or criminal enterprise. None of these stories were proven, but Peter Smith, in the eyes of some, has already become the Clintons’ latest alleged victim. On the other side of the political chasm, reports of Smith’s death carry the almost subliminal implication that his activities would have revealed proof of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, hence, his untimely demise. The competing theories are equally fanciful, at this point. Smith was cremated, and his family has declined to comment further on his death.