The Russia probe – led by special counsel Robert Mueller – is apparently looking into potential collusion between Russian government funded trolls and pro-Trump supporters and websites. Ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee Mark Warner has confirmed reports that as many as 1,000 paid operatives working out of troll mills in Eastern Europe helped disseminate fake news during both the primaries and the presidential campaign.
This line of inquiry in the Russia investigation is looking specifically into how trolls were able to direct fabricated stories that connected Hillary Clinton to non-existent paedophilia rings and murder conspiracies to carefully selected voters in swing states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. Such precise targeting implies that political operatives in the United States may have shared sensitive information with those involved in the fake news campaign.
This revelation comes on the heels of another development in the Russia investigation. Peter W. Smith – a shadowy GOP opposition researcher – allegedly tried to contact Russian hackers in an effort to procure Clinton’s hacked emails. He approached British cyber security expert and consultant Matt Tait, requesting advice and – in the event that he could receive the stolen emails – validation of their authenticity. Tait turned him down, aware of the ramifications and seedy intent behind the request. He remarked that Smith displayed an in-depth awareness of the Trump campaign’s inner-workings, indicating that he may have been acting with some form of official blessing. Smith also name dropped ally Michael Flynn – former Trump advisor and deposed NSA head – in his efforts.
First reported by the Wall Street Journal, this story is the first time someone connected to the Trump camp has been directly connected to an effort to collude with foreign agents as part of campaign maneuvering.