Russian woman charged with interfering in U.S. midterm elections

Justice Dept. charges Russian woman with interference in Midterm elections

As Politico notes, this is the first criminal case alleging Russian interference in the 2018 elections.

The charges come as top US law enforcement and intelligence agencies warn Americans about ongoing efforts by Russia, China and other foreign actors to interfere in the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections.

The woman, identified as Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova of St. Petersburg, Russia, allegedly served as the chief accountant for an operation known as "Project Lakhta", the Justice Department said today in a statement.

The U.S.is concerned about the foreign campaigns "to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies", said the statement from national security officials.

The prosecution of Khusyaynova is being handled by the USA attorney's office in Alexandria, Virginia, rather than by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who continues to investigate Russia's attack on the election in 2016.

In his comments, Trump cast blame on his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who he said, "didn't lift a finger" to stop Russian meddling in 2016, and said that his administration has "done a lot to protect the elections coming up very shortly".

The announcement, which was joined by the Justice Department, FBI and Department of Homeland Security, comes on the eve of a trip National Security Advisor John Bolton is making to Moscow, where he is expected to raise the issue with his counterparts.

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A criminal complaint against Khusyaynova does not include any allegation that the conspiracy had an effect on the outcome of a US election.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence blasted China in a speech saying Russia's influence efforts in America pale in comparison with the covert and overt activities of the Chinese to interfere in the midterms and counter Trump's tough trade policies against Beijing.

Since at least 2015, the group created thousands of false social media profiles and email accounts that appeared to be from people inside the US and were aimed to "create and amplify divisive social and political content", including on significant current events, such as deadly shootings in SC and Las Vegas, prosecutors said in court papers.

The criminal complaint includes specific examples of how a member of the conspiracy instructed people to post about certain news items, including commentary by syndicated radio host Michael Savage, Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs, and "CNN's Pro-Jeb!"

The issue is a particularly fraught one for federal prosecutors.

Their postings did not exclusively reflect one ideological viewpoint, and the operatives were directed to create "political intensity through supporting radical groups" and to "aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population", the Justice Department said.

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