In February 2018, the special prosecutor indicted a St. Petersburg troll farm called the Internet Research Agency along with two other companies, their owner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, and 12 employees. The charge: fraud, traveling to the United States under false pretenses, and using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to "sow discord" and "interfere in US political and electoral processes without detection of their Russian affiliation."
One-time home in St. Petersburg, Russia, of Internet Research Agency, an "online influence" concern. (WikiMedia Commons)
The charge was both legally dubious and heavy-handed, a case of using a sledge hammer to swat a fly. But Mueller went even further in his report, an expurgated version of which was made public in April. No longer just a Russian company, the IRA was now an arm of the Russian government. "[T]he Special Counsel's investigation," it declared on page one, "established that Russia interfered in the 2016 election principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working in the Clinton campaign and then released stolen documents."
"Prigozhin," the report added, referring to the IRA owner, "is widely reported to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin." A few pages later, it said that the IRA's efforts "constituted 'active measures' … a term that typically refers to operations conducted by Russian security services aimed at influencing the course of international affairs."