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Intel officials watching for signs Russia, China are trying to exploit Trump indictment to widen U.S. political divide

After Trump's arraignment Tuesday, a U.S. officials said the intelligence community is watching “very closely” for any signs of interference in U.S. political discourse.
Supporters and opponents of former President Donald Trump gather outside of the Manhattan Criminal Court during his arraignment on April 04, 2023 in New York City. Trump will be arraigned during his first court appearance today following an indictment by a grand jury that heard evidence about money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election. With the indictment, Trump becomes the first former U.S. president in history to be charged with a criminal offense.
Supporters and opponents of former President Donald Trump gather outside Manhattan Criminal Court during his arraignment in New York City on Tuesday.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

U.S. intelligence officials are watching for any influence campaigns from Russia or China that are aimed at amplifying existing political divisions or stoking unrest among Americans over the indictment of former President Donald Trump, according to two U.S. officials.

Officials have been on alert since the indictment was confirmed last week and so far have not seen significant signs of Russian or Chinese interference in the country’s political discourse beyond the efforts that have become standard, the U.S. officials said.

But after Trump’s arraignment Tuesday, one of the officials said the intelligence community is watching “very closely” for any signs of such interference. 

Intelligence officials are particularly looking for any Chinese or Russian efforts to stir up a response to Trump’s indictment and subsequent arraignment, such as protests, this official said. They are more concerned about Russia trying to stir the pot with disinformation, through social media or other outlets, the two officials said. Russia has shown a willingness and the capability to interfere in the U.S. political process, most notably in the 2016 presidential election, and China has increasingly sought to mirror those efforts.

A U.S. official said there is continuing talk of Trump in Russian and Chinese hacker channels, including discussion of the indictment.

The CIA declined to comment. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI did not respond to requests for comment.

Recently pro-Russia Twitter accounts posted false information aimed at fueling fears among residents of East Palestine, Ohio, and stoking political tensions after a large chemical spill from a train.

Bret Schafer, who leads a team tracking Russian, Chinese and Iranian information manipulation efforts at the German Marshall Fund, a U.S. foreign policy think tank, said, “We haven’t seen Russia or China, at least through overt channels, amplifying outright disinformation about President Trump’s indictment and arrest.”

“However,” Schafer said in an email, “we’ve seen the usual opportunism from state-backed actors — especially Russian proxies — that are framing the event as evidence that American democracy and rule of law is collapsing.”