As Bolton heads to Moscow, US charges another Russian with ‘election meddling’
Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova of St. Petersburg, allegedly served as the chief accountant for ‘Project Lakhta’, a strategic effort to “sow discord in the US political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” according to US Attorney Zachary Terwilliger.
The Department named Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and two of his companies, Concord Catering and Concord Management and Consulting LLC, as the source of the project’s funding.
Khusyaynova, 44, was allegedly responsible for distributing the project’s $35 million budget, which the Department says went towards buying domain names, paying trolls to post as American activists, and posting inflammatory content on a whole spectrum of issues, including “immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate.”
Concord will be a familiar name to anyone watching Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing ‘Russiagate’ probe. The company was one of three indicted by Mueller in February, for allegedly interfering with the 2016 election. Concord responded with a court filing saying that the charges amounted to a “make-believe crime” and that Mueller was trying to “justify his own existence” and “indict a Russian ‒ any Russian” for political reasons.
Friday’s indictment comes one day before US national security adviser John Bolton flies to Moscow for a series of meetings with Russian officials, aimed at continuing the dialog started by President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki this summer. A meeting between Putin and Bolton is reportedly on the table.
Curiously, Mueller’s last indictment against ‘Russian hackers’ was issued a few days before Trump’s head-to-head summit with Putin. A host of top Democrats, and some Republicans - such the late Russia-hawk John McCain - called on Trump to cancel the summit in the wake of the indictment. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the timing was intended to “spoil the atmosphere prior to the Russian-American summit.”
“The influential political forces in the US, that are opposed to the normalization of relations between our countries and have spread open slander for the past two years, are desperately trying to make the best use of yet another fake,” the Foreign Ministry added.
The DOJ’s latest indictment, as well as Mueller’s previous two, all have two things in common: First, the accused parties will likely never be extradited to the US to answer the charges. Secondly, all the indictments caution that they don’t allege the ‘interference’ actually “had any effect on the outcome of an election,” or involved “collusion” by any Americans.
Notably, in Friday’s indictment the Justice Department praised the “exceptional cooperation” of Facebook and Twitter in turning over evidence of troll and bot activity. On Wednesday, Twitter released a database of tweets and media it claims “resulted from potentially state-backed information operations” in Russia and Iran.
It would not, however, say how it came to believe the offending tweets came from Russia, and the company has been accused before of roping in genuine accounts in its wide-net bot hunts, which consider an account “Russian-linked” if the user has Cyrillic characters anywhere on their profile, and if they ever logged in from a Russian IP address, even once, to list only two criteria.
In a familiar twist, Twitter’s bot-hunting partner organization – the NATO-sponsored Digital Forensics Lab – concluded that there was “no evidence to suggest” that the tweets “triggered large-scale changes in political behavior.”
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