Paid Russian activists spent years crafting convincing social media accounts and fake personas that would go on to engage repeatedly with apparently unwitting members of the Trump campaign, special counsel Robert Mueller concluded after a nearly two-year investigation.
High level officials and surrogates of President Donald Trump's presidential campaign repeatedly engaged with social media posts created by Russians, while others associated with Trump's campaign helped Russians — posing as American activists — organize political events, according to a redacted version of Mueller's report released Thursday.
The report details both Moscow's social media influence campaign and Russian intelligence officials’ systemic effort to hack and dump documents stolen from Democratic officials. Together, the report paints a detailed narrative of Russian election interference and the sweeping and elaborate effort to discredit Hillary Clinton and elect Trump to the presidency in 2016. Still, the report notes, the investigation did not conclude the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians in that effort.
“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the report notes.
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Social media trolls paid by the Russia-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA) began targeting the U.S. in 2014, according to the report, outlining how the Russians attempted to sow political discord by engaging with divisive topics and organizing pro-Trump events.
Several IRA employees traveled to the U.S. to research and take photos for use in social media postings in mid-2014, and over the course of the next several years created thousands of social media accounts that posted tens of thousands of messages that reached millions of Americans.
Trump campaign officials promoted "dozens of tweets, posts, and other content created by the IRA," the Mueller report notes.
Trump's adult sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and campaign aides Kellyanne Conway, Michael Flynn, and Brad Parscale all cited or retweeted posts from one IRA-controlled Twitter account @TEN_GOP, the report notes. The Russian-controlled account posted allegations of voter fraud and claims that Clinton had mishandled classified information, according to the report. The president's personal Twitter account also engaged with a tweet from a Russian-controlled account.
"IRA employees monitored the reaction of the Trump Campaign and, later, Trump Administration officials to their tweets," according to the report.
Russian actors also organized "dozens" of U.S. rallies, starting with a November 2015 “confederate rally” and including a self-defense class aimed at teaching African-Americans how to defend themselves from the police. They also arranged pro-Trump allies in New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida, one of which was posted about by the president in a Facebook post that’s still live.
In June 2016, Russians posing as Trump supporters started contacting Trump campaign affiliates, asking for signs and promotional help for these events.
“While certain campaign volunteers agreed to provide the requested support (for example, agreeing to set aside a number of signs), the investigation has not identified evidence that any Trump Campaign official understood the requests were coming from foreign nationals,” the report noted.
The Russian-organized rallies continued after the 2016 election.
Over the course of the special counsel's investigation, 25 Russians — a mix of citizens and intelligence officials — were indicted. Ahead of the report's release, Attorney General Bill Barr said those individuals were still at large.