President Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on January 30, 2018. Photo: Shealah Craighead / White House
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Indictment cites 'wokeaztec' account in Russian influence campaign




The Russian government created fake accounts on social media and other internet sites in order to influence Americans during the 2016 presidential election, according to an indictment in the ongoing special counsel probe.

One of those fake accounts bore the email address of "wokeaztec@outlook.com," the indictment states. It was part of an effort by Russia's Internet Research Agency and other Russian nationals to fool Americans into thinking real U.S. citizens were involved, the special prosecutor said.

"Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences," Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, wrote in the February 16 indictment. "These groups and pages, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by defendants."

The "wokeaztec" account was among several created by the Russian defendants in an attempt to associate them with real Americans whose identities were stolen, according to the special counsel. The accounts, for example, were used to create groups, pages and events on Facebook, as well as ads on the social media platform, that promoted then-Republican candidate Donald Trump over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, the indictment reads.


The Russian network -- which is being called a "troll farm" or "troll factory" due to its size and reach -- also promoted Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was extremely popular in Indian Country as he sought the Democratic nomination, and Jill Stein, an independent Green Party candidate who made headlines for getting arrested during the #NoDAPL encampment in North Dakota, the special counsel alleged.

There is no information in the indictment, however, that explains whether "wokeaztec," or any other account, was used to promote Indian causes. But the Russian organization exploited sensitive and politically-charged incidents in America, like the shootings of unarmed African-Americans by police officers, as part of their influence campaign, according to Mueller.

"By 2016, the size of many organization-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers," the document reads.

President Trump, who won the November 2016 election, has repeatedly dismissed any suggestions that his team was involved with these disinformation efforts. In a post on Twitter on Sunday, he described allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russians as a "hoax."

"If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams," Trump added in another post. "They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!"

A top executive at Facebook also appeared eager to distance the site from Russians. In a series of posts on Twitter on Friday that were later cited by Trump as proof of his campaign's innocence, Rob Goldman, the vice president of advertising, claimed that swaying the 2016 election "was *NOT* the main goal," of the effort.

But by Monday, after coming under fire for his comments, Goldman issued an apology on an internal system at Facebook, WIRED reported.

Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press program on Sunday, Sanders conceded that Russia posed a threat to the electoral system in America.

“We have got to do everything we can to make sure that they do not undermine American democracy,” Sanders told program host Chuck Todd in an exclusive interview.

Stein, who once attended a dinner in Russia in 2015 where Russian President Vladimir Putin also was a guest, called America a "victim of election interference" in a post on Twitter. In another post, she said keeping money out politics and ensuring that other candidates get an opportunity to be heard on public airwaves, could prevent interference in the future.

Mueller was tapped as special counsel last year following Trump's surprising ouster of the then-director of the FBI , who has told Congress that he felt pressured by the president to clear the president's name.

Since then, three people connected to President Trump, including his former campaign manager, have been indicted by the special counsel.

The indictment on Friday named 13 individuals, in addition to the Russian Internet Research Agency.

A fourth American, Richard Pinedo of California, pleaded guilty earlier in the week for his involvement in stealing people's identities as part of the Russian campaign. He is cooperating with the special counsel.

A fifth individual, Alex Van Der Zwaan, was indicted on Tuesday for allegedly making false statements about his work with Rick Gates, another defendant.