Anti-Clinton fraud researcher joined forces with several figures in Mueller probe
A former New York investment banker turned independent researcher was in close contact during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign with several figures now reportedly under scrutiny in the Robert Mueller probe, but he says he has not been contacted by the office of the special counsel. Harnessing his financial background, Charles Ortel, aged 62, has in recent years intensively focused on researching complex fraud cases, in particular, what he claims to be massive corruption at the Clinton Foundation.
Through Ortel’s research on alleged corruption at the Clinton Foundation, he became acquainted, and for a time closely aligned, with at least three people whose names have become much more familiar in reporting on the Russia investigation: conservative author Jerome Corsi, who said last week that he expected to be indicted by Mueller’s team for perjury related charges in the coming days; veteran Republican operative and Donald Trump political adviser Roger Stone, who has repeatedly said that he expects to be indicted by Mueller; and the late Chicago-based businessman and Republican operative Peter W. Smith.
How Ortel became allied for a time with each of these three operatives was essentially through their shared zeal in exposing dirt on the Clintons. “I was solely [interested in]…seeing the Clintons and their donors go to prison for the rest of their lives,” Ortel told me.
Ortel’s knowledge of Corsi, Stone, and Smith’s activities is significant. Ortel provided research to Corsi that made its way into his 2016 anti-Clinton book, and Ortel had what he describes as endless phone and email conversations with the late Smith. Yet, he says Mueller’s office has not contacted him let alone asked him to turn over any of his communications with Corsi, Stone, or the late Smith.
Ortel’s name surfaced last month in a July 2016 email released by Stone. In the email, dated July 25, 2016, Ortel urged two Fox News associates to get their media organization to send someone to meet WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuador embassy in London to figure out what documents he had obtained that could presumably damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy.
Ortel was also named in two Wall Street Journal reports in October delving into the activities of Smith, who died in May 2017 in a hotel room near the Mayo Clinic in what authorities ruled to be a suicide. Ortel spoke with Smith by phone the day he died, and was shocked to learn later that Smith had committed suicide.
In the weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Smith had “solicited and raised at least $100,000 from donors as part of an effort to obtain what he believed to be emails stolen from Clinton,” the Journal reported. Smith’s efforts were connected up with Wikileaks along two channels. He reportedly spearheaded an effort to try to enlist Russian and other hackers to obtain Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails and send them to WikiLeaks, according to the Wall Street Journal. He also solicited money to assist Assange’s legal defense, according to a December 2016 email obtained by the Journal and confirmed to the paper by Ortel.
Ortel, in a long phone interview on November 15, told me that he did not provide any money for any of Smith’s efforts to try to obtain Clinton’s deleted emails, enlist hackers, or fund Assange’s legal defense. Instead, Ortel said Smith was initially introduced to him in 2015 as a wealthy businessman with political contacts who could give Ortel advice on how to get his Clinton Foundation corruption stories greater attention from a wider and more influential audience.
While Ortel says he himself was not involved in Smith’s obsessive efforts to get Clinton’s deleted emails, Ortel also says that he was vaguely aware and saw emails go by about Smith’s efforts to form a limited liability company, KLS, to pursue those efforts. Ortel’s remarks also give credence to reports that Smith claimed to be associated with Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, who is due to be sentenced in the Mueller probe on December 18.
Stone connections. The July 25, 2016 email: “Re: Fox London needs to meet Assange”
Asked about his July 2016 email with the subject line “Fox London needs to meet Assange,” Ortel offers a meandering story that begins a couple months earlier, in Washington, D.C.
Ortel said that in May and early June 2016, he went down to Washington, D.C. for two days of meetings with about thirty people, going through what they had found. He is vague about who the people were. “Investigators. It was not an organized thing,” Ortel, speaking on his cell phone from the New York public library, said.
Asked for more clarity on who organized the spring 2016 meeting, Ortel emailed that it was an “informal group… interested in investigating and exposing the truth concerning [the] use by the Clinton family of their foundation for personal enrichment and political advancement.” He wrote, “The informal group did not include political operatives from any campaign, and did not solicit or receive money from any donor. Also, to be crystal clear it did not include Peter Smith or any Smith associate. And, it met only over two days on that one occasion.”
Ortel says that, once he was convinced of massive fraud at the Clinton Foundation, for over three years he would send out emails to a growing list, blind copying what he estimates to be as many as a hundred people, trying to push people to look at his research. That is how Ortel explains the July 25, 2016 email to then Fox News correspondent James Rosen and Fox’s Judge Andrew Napolitano, blind copying Roger Stone.
Ortel also says that his decision to send the email was largely precipitated by Assange’s public statements that he had information that would further harm Clinton’s reputation. WikiLeaks had begun releasing emails stolen by Russia’s intelligence services from the Democratic National Committee on July 22, 2016.
“So the point being, before July 22, Julian Assange was in the Guardian in June, saying, ‘I have information that would put Hillary Clinton in prison,’” Ortel said. “There were many stories like that, talking about that. …That is why I suggested people go to London. It is obvious. He [Assange] is in London. Fox is a big organization…. ‘Get your ass to London, see what he’s got.’”
How did Ortel first meet Stone? Ortel says the two met in 2015 through a mutual friend, Kathleen Willey, one of Bill Clinton’s accusers, whom Ortel had befriended on Facebook.
“Kathleen Willey arranged for me to meet Sam Nunberg,” a Stone associate, Ortel said. “We met in a very strange place, in a bar, in the early afternoon. I don’t drink during the afternoon. It was 2015, and so we talked for hours. I went through what I saw about the Clinton Foundation….It took a while.”
“Ultimately, I met Roger Stone in person a few times. I was on his InfoWars shows, always talking about the Clinton Foundation.”
“Roger was nice enough to me, he never tried to get me involved in asking for money,” Ortel said. “I was not interested. I did not vote in 2016. I am hardly a partisan. … I want to expose the Clinton Foundation. I want to drain the swamp. …That is what I was trying to do.”
Stone “was hard at work on a book with Jerry Corsi, about Clinton and the war on women,” Ortel said. “When the book came out, he wanted me to go on one of those Republican club events, I went to that.”
Smith connections. “Endless emails, phone conversations”
Ortel said while he quickly learned that Smith was “not a billionaire,” despite that being how Ortel had initially been introduced to him over Facebook, that “there ensued endless emails, phone conversations, over many months, speculating about the course of this political event, that economic event, and how to move the Clinton Foundation thing along.”
“After a time, Peter began to talk about these various projects that he had,” Ortel, said. “He broached the topic of finding these [Clinton] emails….I said to Peter, ‘go chase your emails,’ I was focused on the Clinton Foundation.”
Ortel says that while he received emails from Smith about setting up KLS, the limited liability corporation to fund the effort to try to obtain the Clinton emails, “I must have thought nothing about it.” He claimed, “I was not involved in that effort.”
Smith “had explained to me this theory that one way to raise money for these exercises as opposed to doing it in a foundation where reporting was required, was to set up an LLC,” Ortel said. “If you have people who want to support you, they lend money to the LLC.”
Smith had reportedly claimed to associates and those he was trying to recruit in his 2016 election efforts that then Trump campaign adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was involved in his efforts, the Wall Street Journal has reported. “As you are aware Peter started a business relationship with Gen. Mike Flynn in November 2015. We spoke with him on the day he left for his trip to Moscow,” former Smith business associate John Szobocsan wrote in an email obtained by the Journal.
“Peter got more excited as the election happened,” Ortel said. “There were lots of emails. Trump won. And then Flynn got in trouble,” Ortel said. “And Flynn bounced.”
“I never met Flynn,” Ortel said. “I was not interested in interacting with campaigns.”
“But I did talk to Peter, in 2017, and you may have heard I was among the last few people to speak to Peter by telephone when he was alive,” Ortel said. “It was sad and interesting. We would talk back and forth.”
Ortel says Smith never asked him for money, and he was not aware until after Smith’s death of Smith’s reported fundraising efforts to finance the Clinton hacking effort or assist Assange’s legal defense. “I had no knowledge of that ‘til after he died,” Ortel said. “People I know, who are very wealthy, don’t go out and try to raise $200,000 for a project….Again, I don’t know everything Peter was actually up to.”
Told that Assange would be listening to radio broadcast
Ortel was also mentioned in a news report earlier this month about a recently released October 2016 text exchange between Stone and radio host Randy Credico. In the texts, obtained by NBC News, Credico appears to challenge Stone on his claiming to have another associate who had met with Assange. That Stone associate turned out to be Ortel, though Stone subsequently told NBC that he was mistaken about thinking Ortel had met Assange.
Ortel told me that he never personally met or communicated directly with Assange. But Ortel says he did appear on Credico’s radio show in September 2016, in a broadcast for which he had been told Assange might be listening. Ortel says another guest that Credico had invited on the show, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and Assange supporter Craig Murray, told Ortel that Assange might be listening to the show, so he could request the release of Clinton Foundation related material that he hoped Assange possessed.
“The only thing I did, Randy Credico was at WBAI then, in New York, and had a show,” Ortel said. “So I go on air once…Randy gets me back again…and said, ‘Listen, there’s this guy, Craig Murray.’…Credico got ahold of Craig, and said, let’s do another show. Craig Murray says, ‘assume Assange is listening. Suggest what it is you would like to see.’”
“I don’t have a copy of a link to what I said,” Ortel said. But from what he remembers, Ortel said he would be interested in any Clinton Foundation-related emails or documents “in connection with any grants, there should be a lot of material, emails, grant proposals, after-action reports. Where is all that stuff?”
Ortel says while he did not meet Assange, he believes that Credico did. Contacted by this reporter, Credico said that he met Assange at the Ecuador embassy in London in September 2017.
Ortel told me that he himself is ambivalent about Assange.
“I was very interested, and remain interested in getting as much info” about the Clinton Foundation as possible, Ortel said. “The Podesta emails were filled with brutally damaging information concerning the Clinton Foundation. Not as much as I would like to see, but there was a lot in there.”
Ortel said he had his own collaboration and later falling out with Corsi.
According to Ortel, Corsi, whom he previously was acquainted with through mutual friends, approached him in 2014–2015 for his research on possible corruption at the Clinton Foundation. Ortel says they had originally agreed to be co-authors and seek to get the book published at a mainstream publishing house. But, according to Ortel, Corsi was under pressure and agreed to publish it under his own name through the publishing arm of Corsi’s then employer, WorldNetDaily, leading to a falling out for a time.
Corsi said last week on his YouTube show that he expected to be indicted in the coming days for perjury-related charges by Mueller’s prosecutorial team, and sought donations for his legal defense. But as of yet, no such charges have been announced.
Despite these wide ranging professional dealings and collaboration with Stone, Smith, Corsi, and even somewhat Credico, Ortel has yet to hear from federal investigators seeking any information about what he might know.