The US has accused a Russian woman of helping oversee the finances of a sweeping, secretive effort to sway American public opinion through social media in the first federal case alleging foreign interference in the 2018 midterm elections.
The criminal complaint against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova alleges that Russians are using some of the same techniques to influence US politics as they relied on ahead of the 2016 presidential election, methods laid bare by an investigation from special counsel Robert Mueller into possible coordination between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign.
Justice Department prosecutors claim that Khusyaynova helped manage the finances of a hidden but powerful Russian social media effort aimed at spreading distrust for American political candidates and causing divisions on hot-button social issues like immigration and gun control.
The Justice Department unsealed the criminal complaint on the same day that US intelligence agencies asserted that Russia, China, Iran and other countries are engaged in continuous efforts to influence American policy and voters in the upcoming elections and beyond.
In the criminal complaint, prosecutors say Khusyaynova worked for the same social media troll farm that was indicted earlier this year by Mueller.
The social media effort outlined by prosecutors largely mirrors Mueller’s criminal case against three Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency, and 13 Russians, including one who is a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prosecutors say the conduct singled out on Friday runs afoul of criminal laws that bar foreign nationals from attempting to influence American elections or from engaging in political activities without first registering with the attorney general.
Asked about the new accusation against the Russians at an appearance in Arizona, Trump responded that it had “nothing to do with me”.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said recently that Russia has no intention of interfering in the midterm elections.