Russian Charged in Election Meddling 10/21 10:36
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. accused a Russian woman on Friday of helping
oversee the finances of a sweeping, secretive effort to sway American public
opinion through social media in the first federal case alleging foreign
interference in the 2018 midterm elections.
The criminal complaint against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova alleges that
Russians are using some of the same techniques to influence U.S. politics as
they relied on ahead of the 2016 presidential election, methods laid bare by an
investigation from special counsel Robert Mueller into possible coordination
between Russia and Donald Trump's campaign.
Justice Department prosecutors claim that Khusyaynova, of St. Petersburg,
helped manage the finances of a hidden but powerful Russian social media effort
aimed at spreading distrust for American political candidates and causing
divisions on hot-button social issues like immigration and gun control.
The Justice Department unsealed the criminal complaint on the same day that
U.S. intelligence agencies, in a rare public statement , asserted that Russia,
China, Iran and other countries are engaged in continuous efforts to influence
American policy and voters in the upcoming elections and beyond. National
security adviser John Bolton heads to Russia on Saturday.
The U.S. is concerned about the foreign campaigns "to undermine confidence
in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government
policies," said the statement from national security officials. The statement,
which provided no details about any such efforts, said, "These activities also
may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision-making in the 2018 and
2020 U.S. elections."
The national security agencies said they currently do not have any evidence
that voting systems have been disrupted or compromised in ways that could
result in changing vote counts or hampering the ability to tally votes in the
midterms, which are 2 weeks away.
"Some state and local governments have reported attempts to access their
networks, which often include online voter registration databases, using
tactics that are available to state and nonstate cyber actors," they said.
But so far, they said, state and local officials have been able to prevent
access or quickly mitigate these attempts.
Prosecutors allege that Khusyaynova worked for the same social media troll
farm that was indicted earlier this year by Mueller, and the social media
effort they outlined Friday largely mirrors the special counsel's criminal case
against three Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency, and 13
Russians --- including a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The conduct singled out Friday runs afoul of criminal laws that bar foreign
nationals from attempting to influence American elections or from engaging in
political activities without first registering with the attorney general,
prosecutors said. The new prosecution was brought not by Mueller but by the
Justice Department's national security division and prosecutors from the
Eastern District of Virginia. There is no allegation in the complaint of
coordination with the Trump campaign.
Asked about the new accusation against the Russians, Trump responded that it
had "nothing to do with me."
The court papers pull back the court papers on a Russian effort to use
thousands of fake social media profiles, and email accounts that appeared to be
from people inside the U.S., to influence American politics. The goal was not
necessarily to espouse one political ideology over another, prosecutors say,
but rather "create and amplify divisive social and political content" including
on significant current events such as deadly shootings in South Carolina and
Las Vegas, prosecutors said.
One fake persona, registered to "Bertha Malone," made over 400 Facebook
posts containing inflammatory content. One post falsely alleged ties between
President Barack Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood. Another fake Facebook
account, in the name of "Rachell Edison," made more than 700 posts focused on
gun control and the Second Amendment.
The Russian organizers of the conspiracy advised that the posts should
reflect various viewpoints, and they gave specific instructions to only share
articles from certain news websites to correspond to specific political views,
"If you write posts in a liberal group...you must not use Breitbart titles,"
one of the group's members warned, court papers say. "On the contrary, if you
write posts in a conservative group, do not use Washington Post or BuzzFeed's
After one news article targeting Republican Sen. John McCain appeared online
with the headline "McCain Says Thinking a Wall Will Stop Illegal Immigration is
'Crazy,'" members of the group were told to brand him as "an old geezer who has
lost it and who long ago belonged in a home for the elderly." They were also
told to say that McCain had a "pathological hatred toward Donald Trump and
toward all his initiatives."
McCain, a longtime foe of Putin's, died in August of brain cancer.
After another article appeared about Mueller, members of the troll farm were
told to share the article and say Mueller was a "puppet of the establishment"
who had connections to the Democratic Party and "who says things that should
either remove him from his position or disband the entire investigation
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said recently that Russia has
no intention of interfering in the midterm elections.
Friday's separate statement about foreign influence in U.S. elections was
issued just weeks before the Nov. 6 elections by the Office of the Director of
National Intelligence, the Justice Department, the FBI and the Department of
Given the breadth of alleged interference by Russia, which includes the
hacking of Democratic email accounts ahead of the 2016 presidential election,
it was notable that the intelligence community identified two other nations,
China and Iran, in the same statement.
Vice President Mike Pence recently blasted China in a speech, saying
Russia's influence efforts in America pale in comparison with the covert and
overt activities of the Chinese to interfere in the midterms and counter
Trump's tough trade policies against Beijing. But top administration officials
have provided little evidence that China's activities are comparable to
Russia's massive covert measures spelled out in previous indictments obtained
The officials have cited largely public steps taken by China, such as aiming
tariffs at politically important states and pressuring U.S. businesses to speak
out against the Trump administration.
Other countries are using social media to amplify divisive issues in
American society and sponsor content in English-language media, such as
Russia's RT and Sputnik news outlets, the security agencies' statement said.
They also distribute propaganda and plant disinformation against political
candidates, the departments said.
Intelligence agencies have not publicly released evidence of Iran working to
meddle in U.S. elections. In March, however, the Trump administration announced
criminal charges and sanctions against Iranians accused in a hacking scheme to
pilfer sensitive information from hundreds of universities, private companies
and American government agencies.
Lawmakers said the newest criminal complaint is proof that Russian meddling
did not stop in 2016.
"Russian disinformation efforts are ongoing and sophisticated, and they are
intent on dividing us and weakening our society and political system," said
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence