WASHINGTON ― A 44-year-old Russian national working for a Russian oligarch helped run a social media campaign to spread distrust about the American political system ahead of the 2018 elections, federal prosecutors charged in a criminal complaint unsealed Friday.
Prosecutors say Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova of St. Petersburg, Russia, worked as the chief accountant of “Project Lakhta,” the type of operation that has previously been described as a “troll farm.” The project was allegedly funded by oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and two of his companies. Prigozhin was one of 13 Russians indicted in the special counsel’s investigation in February on charges of interfering in the 2016 election.
“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement.
Federal prosecutors, who said they received “exceptional cooperation” from Facebook and Twitter, said the campaign focused on “a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate.”
“Members of the conspiracy took advantage of specific events in the United States to anchor their themes, including the shootings of church members in Charleston, South Carolina, and concert attendees in Las Vegas; the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally and associated violence; police shootings of African-American men; as well as the personnel and policy decisions of the current U.S. presidential administration,” the DOJ said in its press release.
The criminal complaint says Khusyaynova managed Project Lakhta’s finances, controlling expenses like “expenditures for activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and ‘promoting news postings on social networks.’” Project Lakhta’s total budget from January 2016 through June 2018 was allegedly $35 million, but the Justice Department said only a portion of that money was directed toward U.S. operations.
Prosecutors unveiled the charges shortly after the Justice Department, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement on foreign interference in the 2018 elections. The statement said there was no evidence of “a compromise of disruption of infrastructure that would enable adversaries to prevent voting, change vote counts or disrupt our ability to tally votes in the midterm elections,” but that foreign powers were seeking to “exploit America’s free and open political system.”
Read the unsealed criminal complaint below:
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter covering the Justice Department, federal law enforcement, criminal justice and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at email@example.com or on Signal at 202-527-9261.