The feud over whether Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders helped sink Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid re-erupted after the Russian indictment found that the trolling operation tried to boost their 2016 election prospects along with those of Donald Trump.
The indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three entities released Friday found that they were working behind the scenes on behalf of Mr. Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary and Ms. Stein, the Green Party’s candidate for president.
“By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” said the 37-page indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller.
“They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump,” said the document.
Days before the November 2016 election, a Russian-run Instagram account called “Blacktivist” posted the message, “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote,” according to the indictment.
Democratic Coalition co-founder Scott Dworkin responded by calling Ms. Stein a “Russian pawn,” while a photo of her at a December 2015 dinner for the Moscow network RT with Russian president Vladimir Putin made the rounds again on social media.
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“They were pushing votes, just to give one example, to Jill Stein,” said Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Her vote in Michigan, in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin was greater than the gap between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in those states.”
He added, “So we can’t prove that it did affect the outcome, but it certainly seems likely that it had some impact.”
David Axelrod, chief strategist for the Obama presidential campaign, pointed out that Ms. Stein received 50,700 votes in Michigan, a state the Republican Trump won by fewer than 12,000 votes.
“If Russians sought to redirect alienated HRC voters to third parties, as indictment alleges, it was a shrewd ploy,” he tweeted.
Ms. Stein and Mr. Sanders both responded in separate statements by condemning the foreign interference in elections, but Ms. Stein didn’t help her cause with a Sunday interview with MSNBC’s Alex Witt.
The Green Party standard-bearer attempted to deflect questions about whether Russian interference helped her campaign by diverting attention to allegations that the Democratic National Committee rigged the primary in favor of Mrs. Clinton.
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“We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. Yes, there was Russian interference, but remember, there was very compelling interference going on by way of media, by way of the DNC — did the DNC not rig the primary?” Ms. Stein asked.
She argued that the Mueller indictment only mentioned “one Facebook post,” adding, “This doesn’t pass the laugh test.”
RawStory mocked Ms. Stein after the interview, saying she became “unglued” and “attempted a frantic defense” by citing the DNC and estimates that Mr. Trump received $6 billion in free air time from the networks.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sanders said Sunday that interference by Russian hackers had been reported during the campaign, calling the revelations raised by special counsel Robert Mueller “kind of old news.”
“It’s what most Americans know,” said Mr. Sanders on NBC’s “Meet the Press, adding that there were posts on Facebook saying “all kinds of horrible, horrible things about Hillary Clinton.”
He also said that his campaign tried to address the interference after he lost the nomination.
“And it turns out that one of our social media guys in San Diego actually went to the Clinton campaign in September and said, ‘Something weird is going on. Bernie’s not in the campaign, hundreds of these people are now coming on his Facebook site. So I think we already knew that it was an effort to undermine American democracy.”
Still, the indictment only fueled resentment among Clinton supporters about Mr. Sanders’ impact on the election.
“#BErnieSanders helped this happen,” tweeted actress Lisa Ann Walter, referring to the Trump administration.
The indictment said the Russian interference effort began in 2014, well before any of the candidates, including Mr. Trump, entered the 2016 presidential race, and that the amounts spent were relatively miniscule.
“To the extent it mattered, it would have blended into the background and had a cumulative effect over the entirety of the campaign,” concludedFiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver.