A multipronged effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of Republican Donald Trump and against his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton included a Florida rally with an actress portraying Clinton in a prison uniform, according to an indictment released on Friday.
Rallies for Trump, a "Support Hillary, Save American Muslims" rally and a "Down with Hillary" rally were also part of a project to interfere in the election, the U.S. special counsel said in an indictment of 13 Russians and a Russian Internet agency.
The following are details from the court document:
- On or about June 1, 2016, the defendants and their co-conspirators created and purchased Facebook ads for a "March for Trump" rally. They subsequently used email@example.com, the email address of "a false U.S. persona," to send news releases for the march to New York media outlets.
- On or about June 23, they used a Facebook account registered under a false U.S. persona, "Matt Skiber," to contact a real American to serve as a recruiter for the rally, offering to "give you money to print posters and get a megaphone."
- On or about June 24, the defendants and their co-conspirators ordered posters for a "Support Hillary, Save American Muslims" rally, including a poster with a quote attributed to Clinton that read, "I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of freedom."
- On or about July 12, they created and bought Facebook ads for a "Down With Hillary" rally at Trump Tower in New York. They subsequently used the email address of a false U.S. persona, firstname.lastname@example.org, to send news releases to over 30 media outlets.
- On or about July 28, they posted a series of tweets through the false U.S. personal account @March_for_Trump saying they were planning a series of events across Florida and seeking volunteers to help.
- On or about Aug. 2, they used the false "Matt Skiber" Facebook account to send a private message to a real Facebook account, Florida for Trump, set up to help Trump in the state. In the first message, they proposed organizing a "YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every Florida town" and solicited Florida for Trump's help.
- On or about Aug. 2 and Aug. 3, they used the stolen identity of a real American, identified in the indictment as "T.W.," to send emails to grassroots groups in Florida saying that T.W. represented the Being Patriotic group that was going to organize "a flash mob across Florida" to support Trump.
"We're currently choosing venues for each location and recruiting more activists," the email said. It asked recipients to "spread this info and participate in the flash mob."
- On or about Aug. 4, they created and bought Facebook ads for a "Florida Goes Trump" rally, which reached more than 59,000 Facebook users in Florida. More than 8,300 Facebook users responded to the ads by clicking on them, which routed users to the group's "Being Patriotic" page.
- The next day, they used the false U.S. persona @March_for_Trump Twitter account to recruit and later pay a real American to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform at a rally in West Palm Beach.
- Beginning on or about Aug. 11, they used the false "Matt Skiber" Facebook account to recruit a real American to acquire signs and a costume depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.
- On or about Aug. 15, they received an email at one of their false U.S. persona accounts from a real U.S. person, a Florida-based political activist identified as the "chair for the Trump campaign" in a Florida county. The activist identified two more sites in Florida for possible rallies. The defendants and co-conspirators used their false U.S. persona accounts to communicate with the activist about logistics and an additional Florida rally.
- On or about Aug. 18, the real "Florida for Trump" Facebook account responded to the false "Matt Skiber" account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump campaign (identified as "Campaign Official 1" in the indictment) involved in the campaign's Florida operation and provided Campaign Official 1's donaldtrump.com email address.
Approximately the same day, the false U.S. persona "email@example.com" sent an email to Campaign Official 1 saying the "Being Patriotic" group was organizing a statewide event on Aug. 20 to support Trump.
- About the same day, the defendants and co-conspirators wired money to another real American who had been recruited by one of the false U.S. personas to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.
- On or about Aug. 31, using a U.S. persona, they spoke by phone with a real American affiliated with a grassroots group in Miami. On or about Sept. 9, they wired the group money to pay for materials needed for the rally about two days later.
- On or about Aug, 31, they created and bought Facebook ads for a rally they organized and scheduled in New York for Sept. 11.
- On or about Sept. 9, they contacted the person who had impersonated Clinton at the West Palm Beach rally and wired that person money as an inducement to travel from Florida to New York and to dress in costume at another rally they organized.
- On or about Sept. 22, they created and bought Facebook ads for a series of rallies they organized for Trump in Pennsylvania called "Miners for Trump" and scheduled for Oct. 2.
(Compiled by Jonathan Oatis; editing by Grant McCool)