- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Gateway Pundit, a right-wing website that touted President Trump during his 2016 campaign, ran an unsubstantiated report alleging voter fraud during the race fueled by Russian agitprop referenced in a federal indictment unsealed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office Friday.

“GOP Alleges VOTER FRAUD in Broward County – Democrats Opened TENS OF THOUSANDS of Ballots,” Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft declared in an article he published Nov. 2, 2016, precisely a week prior to Mr. Trump’s election over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The article cited a tweet published earlier in the day by @Ten_GOP, a Twitter account purportedly managed by members of the Tennessee Republican Party but actually operated by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm” at the center of a sprawling indictment unsealed Friday as part of Mr. Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 race.

“BREAKING,” the bogus GOP account tweeted. “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”

That precise tweet was among a handful attributed to Internet Research Agency accounts and included in Friday’s indictment charging 13 Russian nationals and three companies, including the aforementioned troll farm and its employees, for allegedly defrauding the United States and interfering in the 2016 race using “information warfare.”

“The defendants allegedly posed as U.S. persons, created false U.S. personas and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences,” the indictment said.

“Starting in or around the summer of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through their fictitious U.S. personas and groups on social media,” according to the indictment.

Indeed, Twitter announced in January that the social network detected and deleted more than 3,000 accounts likely operated by the Internet Research Agency, including the bogus GOP account, among others. Tweets published by those accounts have been purged from Twitter, however, complicating efforts to retroactively gauge the reactions they garnered.

Nonetheless, existing news reports suggest the Russian troll account may have made an impression beyond just The Gateway Pundit. On the afternoon of Nov. 2, for example, Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia sent a letter to the state Supervisor of Elections, writing: “I have been advised that tens of thousands of vote-by-mail ballots in Broward County are being opened by your staff.”

“NEWS ALERT,” Fox News tweeted afterward. “GOP alleges voter fraud in Broward County, Florida.”

Neither Mr. Ingolia nor Mr. Hoft immediately returned emails seeking comment Saturday.

The Gateway Pundit’s role in propagating the baseless voter fraud claim was first reported by the liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America.

Launched in 2004, Gateway Pundit has previously been criticized for its often far-right and occasionally unsubstantiated reporting, including as recently as earlier this week when its credentialed White House correspondent, Lucian Wintrich, circulated a bogus Buzzfeed article titled “Why We Need To Take Away White People’s Guns Now, More Than Ever.”

Members of Mr. Trump’s campaign, including White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, echoed tweets posted by Ten_Gop before the account was deleted, previous reporting revealed.

Social media trolls working for the Internet Research Agency participated in a multifaceted influence operation authorized by President Vladimir Putin targeting the 2016 race, the U.S. intelligence community previously assessed.

“The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in announcing the charges against them Friday.

Russia has denied meddling in Mr. Trump’s election.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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