We've known for a while that the Trump campaign was actively benefiting from Russian social media manipulation, but Spencer Ackerman and the Daily Beast's crew have now connected the Trump campaign directly to a Russian propaganda outlet pretending to be the digital voice of the Tennessee GOP.
Some of the Trump campaign’s most prominent names and supporters, including Trump’s campaign manager, digital director and son, pushed tweets from troll accounts paid for by the Russian government in the heat of the 2016 election campaign.
The Twitter account @Ten_GOP, which called itself the “Unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans,” was operated from the Kremlin-backed “Russian troll farm,” or Internet Research Agency, a source familiar with the account confirmed with The Daily Beast.
The account’s origins in the Internet Research Agency were originally reported by the independent Russian news outlet RBC. @Ten_GOP was created on November 19, 2015, and accumulated over 100 thousand followers before Twitter shut it down. The Daily Beast independently confirmed the reasons for @Ten_GOP's account termination.
The discovery of the now-unavailable tweets presents the first evidence that several members of the Trump campaign pushed covert Russian propaganda on social media in the run-up to the 2016 election.
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment, “for privacy and security reasons."
And several times, including before and right up to the election, the Trump campaign helped spread tweets from the fake account.
Two days before election day, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tweeted a post by @Ten_GOP regarding Hillary Clinton’s email.
“Mother of jailed sailor: 'Hold Hillary to same standards as my son on Classified info' #hillarysemail #WeinerGate” the tweet reads.
Three weeks before the election, Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director, retweeted a separate post from @Ten_GOP.
“Thousands of deplorables chanting to the media: "Tell The Truth!" RT if you are also done w/ biased Media!” the tweet read.
President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. followed the account until its closure on August 23rd of this year. Trump Jr. retweeted the account three times, including an allegation of voter fraud in Florida one week before the election.
“BREAKING: #VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida Please, RT,” the tweet read.
Trump Jr. also retweeted the account on Election Day.
“This vet passed away last month before he could vote for Trump.. Here he is in his #MAGA hat.. #voted #ElectionDay,” the account wrote.
Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn retweeted the Russian-backed troll account at least once. His son, Michael Flynn Jr., retweeted the account 34 times before it was removed from Twitter in August for its ties to Russian propaganda.
The account notably pushed for Flynn’s reappointment as Trump’s national security advisor, a job Flynn lost after press revelations that he’d lied about his telephone discussions with the Russian ambassador after the election hacks. It also repeatedly pushed Breitbart-backed talking points, including a fake news story about a gang rape in Twin Falls, Idaho that merited dozens of articles from Breitbart News.
And even though this was clearly a fake account, it had over 100k followers (mostly Russian bots of course) and was challenged and reported by the actual Tennessee GOP account @tngop, Twitter allowed it to continue even after being suspended in July. In fact, the @Ten_GOP account was operating up until six weeks ago when it was shut down by Twitter as part of the service's crackdown on fake Russian propaganda accounts.
But the larger story is that this account was specifically retweeted multiple times by the Trump campaign. They knew to do it, and knew to retweet this particular account. It's the most obvious evidence yet that the Trump campaign was an active participant in spreading Russian propaganda on social media, propaganda designed to help the Trump campaign win in 2016.
This one is big, guys. And you'd better believe there's more evidence like this coming.