The Senate Intelligence Committee today unveiled a sweeping new bipartisan report detailing Russian efforts to boost Donald Trump’s White House bid on social media during the 2016 U.S. elections, dealing an indirect blow to a push by the president and his allies to shift focus toward claims of anti-Trump meddling by Ukraine.
The report corroborates past findings by researchers and the intelligence community that the notorious Internet Research Agency troll farm, as the committee wrote, “sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”
The committee describes the undertaking as a ‘calculated and brazen assault on the United States and its democratic institutions’ that was not the first or last foray by Russia into election interference.
‘Masking as Americans,’ the operatives used targeted ads, ‘falsified news articles,’ and their own content to ‘deceive tens of millions of social media users.’
The St. Petersburg troll farm, with the anodyne name the Internet Research Agency, sought to influence the election by ‘harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin,’ according to the report.
The stark characterization comes as the election’s winner, President Trump, is an facing impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-controlled House in part over his efforts to get the Ukrainian president to investigate rival Joe Biden and his son, as well as pursue a theory of election interference other than the one outlined in the 88-page unclassified report.
Trump, in a July 25 call, told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to ‘find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it,’ according to a transcript Trump ordered released.
The theory Trump was promoting suggested a Ukrainian containing Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails resided in Ukraine.
Trump and lawyer Rudy Giuliani have also pushed the theory that rival forces in Ukraine went after now-jailed Trump 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort, in what they describe as foreign election interference.
The Senate committee found the Russian information warfare campaign was ‘broad in scope,’ and included such goals as undermining faith in the democratic process, to ‘denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.’
The committee found the IRA’s social media campaign ‘was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump, and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.’
The report describes the funding role of conduit Yevgeniy Prigozhin, known as ‘Putin’s chef.’
His proximity to top Russian officials, including Putin, ‘point to significant Kremlin support, authorization, and direction of the IRA’s operation and goals,’ they write.’
It references Russian officials indicted by the Justice Department as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, which President Trump branded a ‘witch hunt.’
‘No single group’ was targeted by the ads more than African-Americans, according to the report.
In a section on coopting ‘unwitting’ Americans, the report points to on-line organizing and rally operations. ‘In addition, posing as U.S. political activists, the IRA requested – and in some cases obtained – assistance from the Trump Campaign in procuring materials for rallies and organizing the rallies.
The report cites academic research that in the final three months of the campaign, total shares and reactions to top-performing deliberately false stories outperformed the top real news stories.
A fake story on Pope Francis endorsing Trump got 960,000 shares and reactions.
They cite a University of Southern California study that one-fifth of political tweets may actually have been automated bots.