Politics

Revealing Tales from the Election Interference Indictment

Russians Used Americans for ‘Discord’

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing investigation produced indictments Friday alleging election interference by Russian nationals. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Russian operatives allegedly kept an internal list of more than 100 real Americans, their political views and activities that they had been asked to perform by the Russians pretending to be grassroots political organizers.

The Justice Department used an indictment Friday to tell the story of some of those requests and the social media campaigns that the Russian operatives put together, enabling them to grow hundreds of thousands of online followers.

Watch: Intelligence Officials Aware of Russian Activity Aimed at 2018 Elections

Those details — as wild as payments to Americans to build a fake prison to hold a Hillary Clinton impersonator during a campaign rally — paint a picture of how Russians used Americans to “sow discord in the U.S. political system.”

Here are five of the most revealing tales from the indictment:

Campaign Officials 1-3

The Russian operatives communicated with three Trump campaign officials involved in the Republican’s Florida offices, but the indictment does not name those campaign officials and offers few details about the interactions.

In August 2016, the real Florida for Trump Facebook page told the false persona account of “Matt Skiber” to send an email to the domain donaldtrump.com — and the Russian operatives responded the same day.

“Let us introduce ourselves first,” wrote another persona, using the fake email address joshmilton024@gmail.com. “‘Being Patriotic’is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.”

The next day, a Russian-controlled Twitter account, “March for Trump,” sent an email to Campaign Official 2 at a donaldtrump.com email account.

And the day after that, the real Florida for Trump Facebook account sent another message to the Russia-controlled “Matt Skiber” account, which then contacted Campaign Official 3 via Facebook.

Justice Department officials say the campaign officials did not know they were communicating with Russian-controlled social media accounts.

@TEN_GOP

The indictment lists a Russian-backed Twitter account called Tennessee GOP, which used a Twitter handle called “@Ten_GOP,” claimed to be controlled by the Tennessee Republican Party and that garnered 100,000 online followers.

Twitter has deleted the account, first created in November 2015. But internet archives show it was active and filled with divisive pro-Trump, anti-Clinton rhetoric and urged Americans to spread the word.

“Every time you RT this pic it will notify @HillaryClinton and she will see the face of #Benghazi victim’s mom Patricia Smith,” the Russian-backed account tweeted in September 2016. “Make it viral!” It was retweeted more than 4,600 times.

“Just a reminder: Obama wants our children to be converted to Islam! Hillary will continue his mission! #ObamaTownHall,” another tweet states. That message was retweeted 275 times.

On May 9 last year, the day after Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director, the Russian-controlled Twitter account had a bit of fun and used Trump’s signature line from his reality television show, “The Apprentice.”

“Comey last month: ‘You’re stuck with me for about another 6 and a half years . . . ’ Pres. Trump today: ‘You’re fired.’, ” the tweet said.

That got 799 retweets.

Clinton Prison

At many campaign rallies for Trump, crowds chanted “Lock her up” — a reference to the FBI investigation into Clinton's mishandling of classified information as secretary of State — and the Russian operatives sought to capitalize.

And apparently some unwitting Americans got paid by Russians to play along.

In August 2016, the Russian-controlled “Matt Skiber” Facebook account recruited a real person in the United States to acquire signs and a costume for an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform, the indictment states.

A week later, the Russian operatives sent money to another real American who had been recruited by a false persona “to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.”

In September 2016, the Russian operatives contacted the real U.S. person who had impersonated Clinton at a rally in West Palm Beach and sent her money “as an inducement to travel from Florida to New York and to dress in costume at another rally they organized.”

Happy Birthday

In May 2016, the Russian operatives arranged for a real U.S. person to stand in front of the White House in Washington under false pretenses to hold a sign that read “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss.”

According to The New York Times, that was apparently was a reference to one of the persons named in the indictment, Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin. The indictment states he had operated and funded Russian companies involved in the influence campaigns.

Destroying Evidence

In September 2017, when Facebook and Twitter began publicly identifying Russian ads, accounts and messages on their platforms, the Russian operators began destroying evidence, according to the Justice Department.

One of the defendants named in the case, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, wrote in a Sept. 13, 2017, email to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So I got preoccupied with covering tracks with colleagues,” the indictment said, citing the message.

The operative went on to say, “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.  

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