On Thursday, the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report removed any remaining doubt that Russia’s interference campaign was designed to help elect Donald Trump and keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House.
While some parts of the report are still redacted, the investigation uncovered some especially damning details on how Russia’s social media interference operations attempted to push Trump to the presidency. The report went into granular detail about how Russian hackers stole and disseminated Democratic party emails, which were released at the perfect time to help boost the Trump campaign.
The special counsel in its report wrote about Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) that “[t]hroughout 2016, IRA accounts published an increasing number of materials supporting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign.” In one section, describing the IRA’s methodologies, Mueller’s report found that by early 2016 the group had focused on “supporting the Trump Campaign and disparaging candidate Hillary Clinton.”
Later on, the Mueller report identified specific internal IRA emails to back up the investigators’ findings. One, from February 2016, “referred to support for the Trump Campaign and opposition to candidate Clinton.” While some of the details remain redacted, one related passage reads that the IRA should “[u]se any opportunity to criticize Hillary [Clinton] and the rest (except [Bernie] Sanders and Trump — we support them).” Mueller’s team even found that the IRA had been disparaging Clinton even prior to her presidential campaign, focusing on “Clinton’s record as Secretary of State and… various critiques of her candidacy.”
When some of the fake Russian social media accounts proved insufficiently anti-Clinton, they were reprimanded by their higher-ups. An internal IRA review found that one notorious fake Russian Facebook page, “Secured Borders,” had not posted enough anti-Clinton material. The author of the review, according to Mueller’s report, “criticized the ‘lower number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton’ and reminded the [IRA’s] Facebook specialist ‘it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton.'”
And it wasn’t just posts, but ads as well. Mueller’s team found that “IRA-purchased [Facebook] advertisements featuring Clinton were, with very few exceptions, negative.”
The Mueller report even identified multiple connections between the IRA and the Trump campaign, including when members of the Trump campaign — and even Trump himself, as ThinkProgress was the first to report — retweeted fake Russian accounts. However, Mueller’s investigation “identified no similar connections between the IRA and the Clinton Campaign.”
The hacking campaigns, of course, explicitly targeted Clinton’s campaign. One of the sections in Mueller’s report is explicitly titled “GRU Hacking Directed at the Clinton Campaign,” noting the Russian military intelligence agency behind the hacking campaign. While much of the information parallels details put forth in prior indictments against the Russians responsible, the Mueller report specifically notes that the GRU “hacked the computers and email accounts of organizations, employees, and volunteers supporting the Clinton Campaign” — including targeting “hundreds of email accounts used by Clinton Campaign employees, advisors, and volunteers.”
“The release of the documents was designed and timed to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and undermine the Clinton Campaign,” the report notes.
And in regards to timing, Mueller’s report found that Russian hackers specifically targeted new individuals linked to the Clinton campaign almost immediately after Trump in July 2016 called for Russia to “find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing.” As the Mueller report read, “Within approximately five hours of Trump’s statement, GRU officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office…. The investigation did not find evidence of earlier GRU attempts to compromise accounts hosted on this [Clinton-related] domain. It is unclear how the GRU was able to identify these email accounts, which were not public.”
The entire report puts to bed to the notion that those behind Russia’s interference efforts — both on the social media front and those responsible for hacking — targeted both the Trump and Clinton campaigns equally, or that they were interested solely in sowing division for the sake of spreading chaos. As Mueller’s report makes clear, the social media operators and officials behind the hacking and dissemination, especially in 2016, did so with one goal in mind: electing Trump, and preventing Clinton from reaching the White House.
In that regard, they considered their efforts to have been successful. As the report highlighted, the day after Trump’s victory a redacted source wrote to one of the Russian officials involved in outreach to the incoming Trump administration.
Wrote the redacted source, “Putin has won.”