Vladimir Putin’s government has long detested Hillary Clinton, and as Trump rose, the IRA seems to have concluded that he was a useful vector for grievances. Employees sought to boost Trump and Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s principal primary opponent, while also attacking GOP candidates who were more hawkish on Russia: “They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”
Shortly before the election, an Instagram account called “Blacktivist” posted, referring to the Green Party candidate, “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.” Another implored African Americas to boycott the polls: “[A] particular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”
Even if the conspiracy did not set out to boost Trump, it jumped into the task with gusto once latching on to him. There was a distinctly pro-Trump bent in its social-media presence:
Certain ORGANIZATION-produced materials about the 2016 presidential election used election-related hashtags, including: “#Trump2016,” “#TrumpTrain,” “#MAGA,” “#IWontProtectHillary,” and “#Hillary4Prison”" Defendants and their co-conspirators also established additional online social media accounts dedicated to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including the Twitter account “March for Trump” and Facebook accounts “Clinton FRAUDation” and “Trumpsters United.”
The indictment also cites a September 2016 employee review for a moderator for one group, who was scolded for a “low number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton” and was told it was “imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton.”
Among the fans of the Russian accounts were Donald Trump Jr., who repeatedly retweeted @TEN_GOP. The account also actively pushed claims of voter fraud, which would become a mantra for Donald Trump, who warned of a stolen election before balloting, and then, after losing the popular vote, claimed that he had only lost because of 3 to 5 million fraudulent votes:
On or about August 4, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators began purchasing advertisements that promoted a post on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Facebook account “Stop A.I.” The post alleged that “Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucus.”
On or about August 11, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators posted that allegations of voter fraud were being investigated in North Carolina on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Twitter account@TEN_GOP.
On or about November 2, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same account to post allegations of “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”
But the efforts to interfere didn’t stop with online trolling and sock-puppeting. As previous news reports have noted, the Russians also worked to organize rallies within the U.S. They did so using a mix of falsified and stolen identities, which were then used to communicate with Trump supporters and sometimes campaign officials. In one passage, the indictment tracks the organization of a rally in Florida. It quotes this message to a genuine Facebook account:
Hi there! I’m a member of Being Patriotic online community. Listen, we’ve got an idea. Florida is still a purple state and we need to paint it red. If we lose Florida, we lose America. We can’t let it happen, right? What about organizing a YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every Florida town? We are currently reaching out to local activists and we’ve got the folks who are okay to be in charge of organizing their events almost everywhere in FL. However, we still need your support. What do you think about that? Are you in?
In some cases, Russians paid Americans to do certain tasks, such as impersonating Hillary Clinton at a rally. “Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities,” the indictment said.