Russian is first to be charged with meddling in 2018 midterm elections

Geraldine Edwards
October 21, 2018

Government officials on Friday charged a Russian national in connection with a Kremlin-backed information warfare attack against the U.S. It's part of an operation that includes attempts to influence the 2018 mid-term elections in November, Reuters news reported.

The Justice Department on Friday charged a Russian woman for her role in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2018 USA election, marking the first criminal case prosecutors have brought against a foreign national for interfering in the upcoming Midterms.

Targeted messages aimed at sowing discord in the US included issues such as immigration, gun control, race relations and the debate over National Football League players kneeling during the national anthem, according to the complaint.

Federal prosecutors in Alexandria alleged that she worked on behalf of "Project Lakhta", an organization attempting to "to sow discord in the US political system".

Ms Khusyaynova was the chief accountant for "Project Lakhta", funded by Russian oligarch Evgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin who allegedly has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. No one was named in court papers besides Khusyaynova.

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An itemized budget for Project Lakhta totaled about $1 million US dollars for February 2017, according to the complaint.

The conspirators also "took extraordinary steps" to appear as American political activists, officials say, by creating "thousands of social media and email accounts" that gave the illusion that they were operated by United States citizens.

The two companies - Concord Management and Concord Catering - were among three entities and 13 Russian individuals who were indicted by Mr Mueller in February.

Khusyaynova was allegedly working with the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the troll group that wreaked havoc in the lead up to the 2016 election posing as Americans on social media.

Federal prosecutors in Virginia said Khusyaynova's work was part of an effort orchestrated by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, an oligarch known as "Putin's chef" who has already been charged for interference in the 2016 election.

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The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Justice Department, FBI and Department of Homeland Security said they do not have any evidence that anyone went far enough to prevent voting or change vote counts.

The US is bringing up "ludicrous accusations" with a "laughable "body of proof" simply to slap Moscow with a new round of sanctions, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said in a statement on Saturday.

USA intelligence officials say they're concerned about "ongoing campaigns" by Russia, China, Iran and other countries to undermine confidence in American democracy.

Mueller's office has not announced any new indictments since July when it charged 12 Russian intelligence officers who were accused of hacking Democratic computer networks as part of Russian meddling in the 2016 United States election.

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