Justice Department just issued first criminal charges over Russian efforts to steal 2018 midterms

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The further into the rearview mirror that the 2016 election disappears, the more apparent it becomes that the Russian Federation played a large, aggressive role in installing Donald Trump in the Oval Office. More frightening still, all indications seem to point to the Russians repeating their efforts in the upcoming midterm elections.

Today saw another major development in the ongoing Russian interference saga. The Hill reports that the Department of Justice has officially charged Russian Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova for engaging in “conspiracy to influence” the elections next month. She is the first person charged with 2018 midterm interference.

A joint statement released by the DOJ, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, FBI and Department of Homeland Security put these new charges in proper perspective.

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“We are concerned about ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and other foreign actors, including Iran, to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies. These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision making in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections,” the statement reads.

FBI Director Christopher Wray also released his own statement:

“This case serves as a stark reminder to all Americans: Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our democracy by creating social and political division, spreading distrust in our political system, and advocating for the support or defeat of particular political candidates. We take all threats to our democracy very seriously, and we’re committed to working with our partners to identify and stop these unlawful influence operations. Together, we must remain diligent and determined to protect our democratic institutions and maintain trust in our electoral process,” said Wray.

Khusyaynova is accused of running the finance apparatus of something called “Project Lakhta,” the operational name of a broad, tendriled Russian shadow campaign to interfere in the politics of foreign nations, most notably the United States. The infamous St. Petersburg “troll farm” is but one element of Lakhta.

The DOJ’s charges lay out the source of Lakhta’s two-year $35 million funding, which appears to come from “Concord Management and Consulting” and “Concord Catering,” companies opened by a Russian businessman with close to ties to dictator Vladimir Putin.

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Specifically, Khuyaynova and some of her co-conspirators have been charged for their attempts to “defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission in administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.”

As we saw in the 2016 election, much of the new interference is focused around social media, with the Russians sowing discord by inflaming partisan sympathies on wedge issues like immigration and gun rights. One of the primary goals is to increase political polarization and deepen the divide between Americans.

While the DOJ’s announcement won’t stop the Russians from pursuing their nefarious designs on American democracy, it does serve as a wakeup call to all patriotic citizens. The Republican Party has voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the support of a foreign adversary on their side this election cycle. The only way to beat them is to show up to the ballots en masse and vote them out through sheer force of numbers.

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Original reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen at the Hill.

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Natalie Dickinson

Natalie is a staff writer for the Washington Press. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been freelance blogging and writing for progressive outlets ever since.

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