The FBI has been warning for a while that the Russians would try to interfere in the midterms, and the Justice Department has just brought a criminal case alleging just that. The feds charged a 44-year-old Russian woman, Elena Khusyaynova, with conspiracy to defraud the US, reports the Washington Post. Prosecutors say Khusyaynova ran an operation funded by a Russian oligarch whose aim was to “spread distrust towards candidates for U.S. political office and the U.S. political system” by bombarding social media with divisive messages on issues from immigration to gun control to the NFL anthem protests. As Politico notes, this is the first criminal case alleging Russian interference in the 2018 elections. Khusyaynova is a foreign national who lives in St. Petersburg, and she was not in custody.
Khusyaynova works for an oligarch named Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, described by the New York Times as a close ally of Vladimir Putin who was previously indicted for interference in the 2016 election. She allegedly spent millions in an operation called Project Lakhta, buying advertising on social media, acquiring internet domain names, and pushing "news postings on social networks." She and her team also “took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists,” the prosecutors wrote. Also Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned that "ongoing campaigns" by Russia, China, and Japan were underway to influence the midterms and the 2020 elections. (Read more Russia stories.)