The U.S. Justice Department charged a Russian woman with conspiracy to defraud the United States on Friday, accusing her of running a foreign campaign — financed by a close associate of Vladimir Putin — aiming to meddle in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.
“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 Terwilliger said in a statement. “This case demonstrates that federal law enforcement authorities will work aggressively to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of unlawful foreign influence activities, and that we will not stand by idly while foreign actors obstruct the lawful functions of our government.”
Elena Khusyaynova spread misinformation on social media on a several controversial issues, including immigration and gun control, in an effort to stir political dissent, according to the Justice Department.
The 44-year-old Russian managed the budget for “Project Lakhta,” a foreign operation with a $35 million operating budget between 2016 and 2018, the Justice Department said. The campaign was financed by Yevgeniy Viktorovich, a Russian oligarch nicknamed “Putin’s chef” for his close ties to the Russian president, according to the DOJ.
The DOJ thanked Twitter and Facebook for their “exceptional cooperation” during its investigation.
Project Lakhta created thousands of social media accounts disguised as U.S. citizens, in order to “amplify divisive social and political content,” the DOJ said. Some of the accounts had tens of thousands of followers, according to the DOJ.
Other controversial topics the Russian trolls touched on included LGBT issues, race relations, the Women’s March, the Confederate flag, and the national anthem debate gripping the NFL.
The DOJ’s charges are the first against a foreign national for interference in the upcoming midterm elections, and comes at a time when major tech platforms are increasingly focused on thwarting misinformation campaigns. Facebook and Twitter both removed hundreds of Russian and Iranian accounts for pushing political misinformation in August.