Seven current and former U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed with Reuters the existence of two confidential documents obtained from a Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin. Those documents respectively reveal a plan to assist Donald Trump in winning the 2016 presidential election and a subsequent effort to undermine faith in the American electoral system.
Putin has long denied accusations of interference in the U.S. election, but the existence of these documents belies those denials.
The documents lie at the heart of U.S. intelligence conclusions that a concerted and intensive effort, using “fake news” and cyber attacks against Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party, was underway by Russia. The acquired documents provide a concise framework and rationale for the Kremlin’s covert actions. They had been prepared by the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in Moscow, run by former senior Russian foreign intelligence officials handpicked by Putin’s office.
“Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map,” stated one of the sources, a former senior U.S. intelligence official.
The first document comprised a strategy paper, written last June. That document advised a Kremlin-backed social media campaign to spread propaganda so that U.S. voters would elect a president with a softer stance toward Russia than Obama had shown. The campaign included the use of Russian state-backed news outlets. Officials said the approach was a broadening of Kremlin efforts launched in March 2016. Moscow had instructed state-backed media outlets, including Russia Today and the Sputnik news agency, to begin positive reports on Trump. Many of these reports found their way into the blogosphere and to Twitter. Russia today produced one video that false stated all of Clinton’s charity collections went to them personally. That video accumulated over 10 million views.
The second document, written last October, assumed by that point that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and therefore advised that Russia end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead focus on messaging around widespread voter fraud in order to inflict maximum damage on the system and undermine Clinton’s credibility. Like the first document, the second document circulated among the highest levels of the Russian government.
While neither document mentioned the hacking of emails, which was an operation that U.S. officials believe was directed out of the Kremlin itself, both Russia Today and Sputnik heavily promoted news about the release of the hacked DNC emails, which often contained embarrassing details.
In a statement to Reuters, a spokesperson for Sputnik dismissed assertions by the U.S. officials that it participated in a Kremlin campaign as an "absolute pack of lies." The spokesperson went on to note, “And by the way, it's not the first pack of lies we're hearing from 'sources in U.S. official circles'."
Reuter’s sources declined to discuss how the United States obtained the documents, and U.S. intelligence agencies also declined to comment on them.