President Donald Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump, Jr. reportedly coordinated with WikiLeaks in mounting a vicious cyberattack against a fledgling anti-Trump website called PutinTrump.org.
Mother Jones magazine said on Wednesday that in September of 2016, PutinTrump.org was hit with a vicious cyberattack in which hackers clogged the site with spam, published staffers’ personal information online and subjected them to a relentless campaign of threats and intimidation.
“It was the scariest time in our lives,” one staff member recounted to PutinTrump editorial director Bill Buzenberg, who penned the Mother Jones essay. “There were messages threatening our families.”
On Sep. 19, 2016, PutinTrump.org prepared to go live, sending out a press release to “roughly a dozen” major news agencies that included a link to a mockup of the site’s front page and a password with which to view it, “putintrump.”
Within hours of the moment the site was supposed to go live, we now know — thanks to reporting from The Atlantic — that WikiLeaks sent a direct message to Trump Jr. on Twitter.
“A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch. The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” said the message.
“Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” Trump Jr. replied. “Thanks.”
Trump Jr. then emailed campaign officials about the note including his sister’s husband Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and the campaign’s digital director Brad Parscale. Kushner forwarded the email to now-White House communications director Hope Hicks.
“Almost immediately after WikiLeaks messaged Trump Jr., though, it made another move: It tweeted out the password,” said Buzenberg, explaining that “(t)he password did not allow anyone access to the back end of the site; it was intended simply to let the press preview the site as it would look the following day, when it went live.”
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) September 21, 2016
WikiLeaks was mistaken regarding the name of the PAC, Buzenberg noted. The site was funded by billionaire Rob Glaser, who chose the name Progress for America without realizing that a pro-Iraq War PAC had already used the name more than a dozen years before. Glaser changed the name of the PAC to Progress for USA, but by then PutinTrump.org had already been targeted.
“Our site was soon hit with a surge of traffic and spam while it was still password-protected and meant to be out of public view—and that was just the beginning. Within hours, people involved with launching the site were doxxed and personally targeted on Twitter, an attack that quickly spread to Reddit and to alt-right and pro-Trump news sites,” said Buzenberg.
Some details were withheld by Mother Jones because the information is still available on the web, including cell phone numbers, home addresses, names and ages of family members and whatever other information pro-Trump trolls could unearth online.
“Their email accounts were hit with a spambot attack, signing them up for thousands of unwanted subscriptions — many in a foreign language — which rendered the accounts unusable. In a panic, one of them sent me a message: ‘We are getting 100,000 spam messages to our inbox and all of our personal info is on twitter.’ They also received menacing emails and crank phone calls.”
The attacks were traced to an anonymous Twitter account that was created in February, 2016, “just before the presidential election. The account offered to reward ‘whoever can find dirt’ on the people working with PutinTrump.org; in another tweet it declared, ‘We will uncover them ALL!’”
By September of 2016, it was abundantly clear that WikiLeaks was coordinating with Russian government interests to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Now, Buzenberg says, “Digital evidence examined by Mother Jones indicates with near certainty that WikiLeaks communicated with Trump Jr. about the launch of PutinTrump.org just eight minutes before posting the password for its millions of followers.”
It’s still unclear who leaked the website’s information to WikiLeaks and how the site was targeted so swiftly before it even properly launched.
Glaser — who is also a donor to Mother Jones — said, “We launched PutinTrump.org because I and others inferred that there were a set of unseemly and perhaps illegal links between then candidate Trump and Russia’s efforts to hack our democracy. It’s clear that our inferences were well founded.”
He added, “Even so, we had no idea that our website would actually stimulate new links connecting the Trump campaign, Russian hackers, and their publisher, WikiLeaks.”