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Justice Department Charges Russian with Interfering in Midterms

(Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The Justice Department charged a Russian national on Friday with conspiring to interfere in America’s midterm elections.

Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States in the first criminal case to confront Russian efforts to interfere in the upcoming elections. Khusyaynova, who is not in American custody, is alleged to have spent almost two and a half years in charge of a Russian influence operation’s $35 million budget, part of which was used to conduct what the group called “information warfare against the United States,” including “promoting news postings on social networks.”

According to prosecutors’ indictment, the group, Project Lakhta, pretended to be American political activists during both the 2016 and 2018 election seasons in order to sow divisions by highlighting controversial issues, including immigration, gun control, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem controversy.

“Through supporting radical groups” the conspirators aimed to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger said.

“The Conspirators’ activities did not exclusively adopt one ideological viewpoint; they wrote on topics from varied and sometimes opposing perspectives,” FBI Special Agent David Holt wrote in the criminal complaint.

The operation does not appear to have affected the outcome of any election, the statement said.

Project Lakhta is allegedly linked to the Russian groups Internet Research Agency and Concord Management, which were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for meddling in the American presidential election in 2016.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement Friday warning of foreign interference in upcoming elections

“We are concerned about ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and other foreign actors, including Iran, to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies,” the statement from ODNI read. “These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision making in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections.”

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