The U.S. government on Friday charged a Russian national with playing a key financial role in a Kremlin-backed plan to conduct "information warfare" against the United States, including to influence next month's congressional elections.
The Justice Department unsealed the criminal complaint on the same day that USA intelligence agencies, in a rare public statement, asserted that Russia, China, Iran and other countries are engaged in continuous efforts to influence American policy and voters in the upcoming elections and beyond.
Elena Khusyaynova, the woman charged by the DOJ, was apparently the chief accountant for this project funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who's been referred to as "Putin's chef".
"Today's charges allege that Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova conspired with others who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with USA democracy", the news release said.
In a joint statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Homeland Security Department, the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation say they're anxious about activities that "seek to influence voter perceptions and decision-making" in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
In his comments, Trump cast blame on his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who he said, "didn't lift a finger" to stop Russian meddling in 2016, and said that his administration has "done a lot to protect the elections coming up very shortly".
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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.
Using social media and other avenues, the conspiracy participants waged "information warfare against the United States", attempting to sow distrust of candidates for US political office and the USA political system, according to the complaint.
Between 2016 and 2018, Project Lakhta's proposed operating budget exceeded $35 million, although only a portion of that money targeted the USA, prosecutors said.
The criminal complaint unsealed on Friday makes Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, the first individual to be indicted for attempting to interfere in the 2018 US elections, according to a government official with knowledge of the matter.
In July, 12 Russians were charged with hacking Democratic Party emails during the 2016 USA presidential election. "Unlawful foreign interference with these debates debases their democratic integrity, and we will make every effort to disrupt it and hold those involved accountable".
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence blasted China in a speech saying Russia's influence efforts in America pale in comparison with the covert and overt activities of the Chinese to interfere in the midterms and counter Trump's tough trade policies against Beijing.