Ever since Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as president 13 months ago, with his White House shrouded in a fog over its murky Russia ties from day one, Fridays have been the day that big news gets dumped, per venerable Washington tradition. Last Friday did not disappoint, and a week that was supposed to be about the White House’s big infrastructure plan instead wound up focusing on Russia, yet again.
After months of investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued indictments against 13 Russians and three Russian entities on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States. In addition, three Russians were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, while five were charged with aggravated identity theft. Boiled down, the indictments outline a complex conspiracy to clandestinely influence our 2016 election.
Beginning in 2014, the Kremlin began laying the groundwork for information warfare against the American electorate, collecting intelligence and establishing masked computer networks to employ social media in a weaponized manner against our democracy. The hub of this secret effort was the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, which functioned as a front for Russian intelligence; at its 2016 peak, it was spending $1.25 million per month on operations to influence our election with online disinformation and propaganda. This effort aimed to sow distrust among Americans, further poisoning our already polarized election, while boosting Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders at the expense of Hillary Clinton and Trump’s rivals in the Republican primaries.
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