Rochester, MN - A GOP operative and donor from the Chicago area, Peter W. Smith, who was investigating and working to obtain Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails from Russian hackers allegedly killed himself in a Rochester, Minnesota hotel room only days after discussing his efforts with the Wall Street Journal, according to public records.
Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson on Wednesday called his manner of death "unusual," according to the Chicago Tribune. Records show that Smith's death occurred at the Aspen Suites in Rochester, and they list the cause of death as "asphyxiation due to displacement of oxygen in confined space with helium." Police allege that Smith used a plastic bag and a helium tank to kill himself.
Smith was renowned for engaging in opposition research, the formal term for digging up dirt about political rival candidates, which could have made him a potential target in the high stakes game of power politics.
For many years, President Bill Clinton was Smith's primary target. The wealthy businessman was partially responsible for exposing the "Troopergate" allegations about Bill Clinton's sex life. He also discussed financing a probe of a 1969 trip Bill Clinton had taken while in college to the Soviet Union, according to a report in Salon magazine.
According to a report by the Chicago Tribune:
In a room at a Rochester hotel used almost exclusively by Mayo Clinic patients and relatives, Peter W. Smith, 81, left a carefully prepared file of documents, which includes a statement police called a suicide note in which he said he was in ill health and a life insurance policy was expiring.
Days earlier, the financier from suburban Lake Forest gave an interview to the Journal about his quest, and it published stories about his efforts beginning in late June. The Journal also reported it had seen emails written by Smith showing his team considered retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then a top adviser to Republican Donald Trump's campaign, as an ally. Flynn briefly was President Trump's national security adviser and resigned after it was determined he had failed to disclose contacts with Russia.
At the time, the newspaper reported Smith's May 14 death came about 10 days after he granted the interview. Mystery shrouded how and where he had died, but the lead reporter on the stories said on a podcast he had no reason to believe the death was the result of foul play and that Smith likely had died of natural causes.
However, the Chicago Tribune obtained a Minnesota state death record filed in Olmsted County that says Smith committed suicide in a hotel near the Mayo Clinic at 1:17 p.m. on Sunday, May 14. He was found with a bag over his head with a source of helium attached. A medical examiner's report gives the same account, without specifying the time, and a report from Rochester police further details his suicide.
In what authorities purport to be a suicide note left by Smith, police allege that he apologized and stated in the note that “NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER” was involved in his death, and that he was taking his own life due to a “RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017,” and the timing was related “TO LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION EXPIRING.”
"Tomorrow is my last day," Smith allegedly a told another man at the hotel while working on printing documents in the hotel’s business center, on May 13, according to the police reports.
A former employee of Smith told the Chicago Tribune that he believed Smith was going to the prestigious clinic in Minnesota to be treated for a heart condition. A Mayo spokeswoman, Ginger Plumbo, said Thursday she could not confirm Smith had been a patient, citing medical privacy laws.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, it was on Labor Day weekend 2016 that Smith assembled a team to investigate and acquire emails that they believed may have been stolen off of the private email server Clinton operated while US Secretary of State.
The team's primary focus was on the more than 30,000 emails Clinton claimed to have deleted due to their personal nature – a seemingly dubious claim. While many emails were made public, a vast batch of emails were simply deleted without thorough outside investigation of the contents of them.
According to the Chicago Tribune report:
Recommended for You
Smith told the Journal he believed the missing emails might have had been obtained by Russian hackers. He also said he thought the correspondence related to Clinton's official duties. He told the Journal he worked independently and was not part of the Trump campaign. He also told the Journal he and his team found five groups of hackers — two of them Russian groups — who claimed to have Clinton's missing emails.
Investigations into any possible links between the Russian government and people associated with Trump's presidential campaign now are underway in Congress and by former FBI chief Robert Mueller. He is acting as a special counsel for the Department of Justice. Mueller spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the Journal's stories on Smith or his death. Washington attorney Robert Kelner, who represents Flynn, had no comment on Thursday.
An employee with Rochester Cremation Services, the funeral home that responded to the hotel, said he helped remove Smith's body from his room and recalled seeing a tank.
The employee, who spoke on the condition he not be identified because of the sensitive nature of Smith's death, described the tank as being similar in size to a propane tank on a gas grill. He did not recall seeing a bag that Smith would have placed over his head. He said the coroner and police were there and that he "didn't do a lot of looking around."
"When I got there and saw the tank, I thought, 'I've seen this before,' and was able to put two and two together," the employee said.
An autopsy was conducted, according to the death record, but the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office where the autopsy was performed declined a request by the Tribune for Smith’s autopsy report, only releasing limited information about his death.
According to figures from the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, 172 people committed suicide by suffocation from January 2007 to date. Of those asphyxia deaths, 15 involved the use of a plastic bag over the head. And while it could not be determined how many of those deaths involved the use of helium, an odorless and tasteless gas, that is non-toxic, the likely answer is zero – which makes the manner in which Smith was killed unique and unusual.
Police say they found a receipt from a local Wal-Mart timed stamped from the previous day, but said they had not viewed any security footage from the store to confirm that Smith had purchased the helium tanks.
The manner in which Smith allegedly killed himself is sure to raise questions, as it is yet another person connected to, or investigating, the Clintons that has met an untimely and suspicious death. There is a substantial list of people connected to the Clintons that have died under suspicious circumstances, which begs the question of their potential involvement in the string of deaths surrounding them – Vince Foster, Shawn Lucas, Seth Rich, and John Ashe.
While undoubtedly attempting to debunk the Lucas-Clinton connection, as they generally operate as an unreliable left-wing political hit squad, Snopes actually confirmed information about Lucas’ death. The outlet said they have contacted Lucas’ employer for information about his death, but a distraught person on the phone was unable to confirm anything or offer further details other than that Lucas had died on August 2.
His deaths came on the heels of another suspicious, Clinton connected, death in late June. After former U.N. President John Ashe was found dead, the U.N. claimed that he had died of a heart attack, according to the New York Post’s Page Six. Suspiciously, that claim was later disputed by local police officers in Dobbs Ferry, New York, who said that Ashe had died from a crushed throat during a workout accident.
Ashe, while not scheduled to testify against Clinton herself, as widely reported, was due in court with Chinese billionaire co-defendant Ng Lap Seng. Ashe was accused of receiving at least $500,000 in bribes to use “his official position to obtain for Ng potentially lucrative investments in Antigua,” according to a criminal complaint charging Ng.
“In exchange for the payments from Ng, among other actions, Ashe submitted a UN document to the UN Secretary General, which claimed that there was a purported need to build the UN Macau Conference Center,” the complaint alleges.
According to a 2015 report by The Daily Beast:
Ng being the mega-rich Chinese national who used a proxy to pour more than $1 million into the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton-Gore campaign back in 1996. Scandal was joined by embarrassment when it turned out that Ng had been favored with 10 visits to the White House, including an elevator ride with Hillary Clinton.
Adding to the intrigue surrounding Ashe’s death, an anonymous source who spoke with Page Six, said prosecutors had intended to use the fact that Ng had funneled money to the DNC during Bill Clinton’s presidency in an effort to link Ashe directly to Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“It would have been very embarrassing,” the source added. “His death was conveniently timed.”
While there is currently no evidence to corroborate these deaths as murders, there is rampant speculation in the public arena as to whether the Clintons are connected to the deaths of Foster, Ashe, Lucas, and now Smith -- as well as the numerous other Clinton confidantes that have met an untimely demise in the midst of controversial situations.