Russian Meddling Has Hit Midterms

A Russian was charged with attempting to interfere in the 2018 midterms. Charges state the goal is to divide and create conflict in the U.S. political system. Can Russians hurt American democracy if not caught?

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Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, Russia is being charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States for managing the financing of the social media operation, including the Internet Research Agency, which special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators charged with crimes earlier this year, as reported by CNN.

The indictment alleges that she participated in a conspiracy with a strategic goal to “to sow division and discord in the US political system, including by creating social and political polarization, undermining faith in democratic institutions, and influencing US elections, including the upcoming 2018 midterm election.” Based on the unsealed complaint, she aided the Russian effort to enrage passion online related to immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March and the NFL National Anthem debate from December 2016 until May 2018.

The government says that the conspiracy is also part of a 2016 influence operation that dates back to at least May 2014.Khusyaynova is accused of overseeing a $35 million budget from 2014 to 2018, with roughly over $10 million being for just 2018 alone. The budget covered spending on activists, social media advertising, and promoting news postings on social networks.  It was allegedly funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin and his companies. Prigozhin is known to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and is often referred to as “Putin’s chef.”

Prosecutors say Khusyaynova oversaw the finances of the corporatized propaganda effort, by overseeing the finances in what is called “Project Lakhta.” The money for the project came in from Concord Management and Catering, which received some of its funding from the Russian government to feed school children and the military, prosecutors allege. Concord is the only Russian defendant to plead not guilty so far and is being represented by lawyers in the U.S.

The charges state that Russians attempted to manipulate Americans through online efforts by focusing on multiple viewpoints and candidates. Although, they frequently zeroed in on the Republican Party’s most known leaders, CNN reports.

For example, in an effort to spread an online news article about the late Sen. John McCain’s position on a border wall to stop illegal immigration, an alleged conspiracy directed others to “brand McCain as an old geezer.” They labeled House Speaker Paul Ryan “as a complete and absolute nobody incapable of any decisiveness” and as a “two-faced loudmouth.” The complaint also states that other efforts were aimed, by planting stories about other politicians such as Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, by pushing that they “fully support” Donald Trump.

The millions of dollars allowed Russians to buy social media analytic services, plant online advertisements, secure server space and domain names, and stage political rallies and protests in the US. The Russians would often use fake Americanized names like “Bertha Malone” or “Helen Christopherson” on Facebook or handles like “@TrumpWithUSA” “@swampdrainer659” or “@UsaUsafortrump” on Twitter. One of the many accounts run by the group, @wokeluisa, accumulated 55,000 followers in one year, by tweeting about Flint, Michigan’s drinking water crisis and encouraging voters to register in the 2018 midterm elections, CNN reports.

John Carlin, former head of the Justice Department’s National Security division, and author of “Dawn of the Code War,” warned CBS News that Russia is spending millions to undermine American democracy. “We’re under attack now and our elections are at risk,” he said. “There is no way this is taking place without the knowledge of Putin himself.”

Those involved in the conspiracy have made extensive efforts to appear like American political activists and hide the fact that they are Russian. The Khusyaynova case, makes it the 27th time a Russian has been charged with a crime related to 2016 election interference or by Mueller, whose mandate is to investigate those crimes. President Trump addressed the news with reporters by stating that the arrest had nothing to do with his campaign. “It had nothing to do with my campaign,” the president said. “All of the hackers and all everybody that you see — nothing to do with my campaign. If they’re hackers, a lot of them probably liked Hillary Clinton better than me,” Trump said.

Russians are proving how vulnerable we really are, and we must fight back to prove there is consequences for their actions. Read the full story from CNN here.

Here’s how people on the Zip app are weighing in on this all over the country!

A Russian was charged with attempting to interfere in the 2018 midterms. Charges state the goal is to divide and create conflict in the U.S. political system. Can Russians hurt American democracy if not caught?

41% For sure
59% No, already divided
38% For sure
62% No, already divided
46% For sure
54% No, already divided

For sure

No, already divided

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