A seller peddles a t-shirt at a Trump campaign rally at Germain Arena, Estero, Fla., Sept. 19, 2016. The Mueller Report has revealed that Russians organized rallies for Trump in August 2016. (Photo by author)
April 19, 2019 by David Silverberg
Russian election interference efforts in Florida were numerous and extensive during the 2016 presidential election campaign, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report (technically, Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election).
The big initial news in Florida was that a Russian hacker tried to penetrate at least one Florida county’s election system. The scramble is now on to identify the county.
However, there are references to Florida events, people and places throughout the 448-page document.
Here, in the order they appear, are summaries of those references.
Aug. 20, 2016: Florida rallies
The Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian organization chiefly responsible for covertly interfering in the US election through social media, organized rallies for Trump throughout the country using front organizations. The report describes their modus operandi:
“The IRA organized and promoted political rallies inside the United States while posing as U.S. grassroots activists. First, the IRA used one of its preexisting social media personas (Facebook groups and Twitter accounts, for example) to announce and promote the event. The IRA then sent a large number of direct messages to followers of its social media account asking them to attend the event. From those who responded with interest in attending, the IRA then sought a U.S. person to serve as the event’s coordinator. In most cases, the IRA account operator would tell the U.S. person that they personally could not attend the event due to some preexisting conflict or because they were somewhere else in the United States. The IRA then further promoted the event by contacting U.S. media about the event and directing them to speak with the coordinator. After the event, the IRA posted videos and photographs of the event to the IRA’s social media accounts.”
Three of these rallies were in New York, a series were held in Pennsylvania and a series were held in Florida. “The Florida rallies drew the attention of the Trump Campaign, which posted about the Miami rally on candidate Trump’s Facebook account,” states the report. The IRA-organized Florida rallies occurred on Aug. 20, 2016 and were called “Florida Goes Trump!” and were billed “a patriotic flash mob.” At least 17 rallies were attempted.
(During the campaign, Trump held two rallies in Southwest Florida, one at the then-Germain Arena in Estero on Sept. 19, 2016 and the other at the Collier County Fairgrounds on Oct. 25, 2016.)
Nov. 2, 2016: Disseminating Russian disinformation
As the report states:
“Among the U.S. ‘leaders of public opinion’ targeted by the IRA were various members and surrogates of the Trump Campaign. In total, Trump Campaign affiliates promoted dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA. Posts from the IRA-controlled Twitter account @TEN_ GOP were cited or retweeted by multiple Trump Campaign officials and surrogates, including Donald J. Trump Jr.”
One of these Trump Jr. retweets was an allegation that Democrats were committing voter fraud in Florida: “RT @TEN_GOP: BREAKING: #VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”
June 15, 2016: Releasing hacked e-mails
On June 14, the Democratic National Committee publicly announced that its e-mail server had been hacked. Apparently in response, the following day the Russian unit (Unit 74455) of its military intelligence service, the GRU, began releasing the stolen e-mails under the persona Guccifer 2.0. Releases were grouped around specific themes such as key states—like Pennsylvania and Florida.
The report also states: “On August 22, 2016, the Guccifer 2.0 persona transferred approximately 2.5 gigabytes of Florida-related data stolen from the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] to a U.S. blogger covering Florida politics.” The blogger’s name is not mentioned in the report.
November 2016: The attempted hack of Florida election officials
In November 2016 GRU officers sent over 120 e-mails to Florida election officials in a spearphishing effort—specifically targeting the officials with false e-mails that would open their systems to exploitation. “The spearphishing emails contained an attached Word document coded with malicious software (commonly referred to as a Trojan) that permitted the GRU to access the infected computer,” states the report.
It was through this technique that at least one Florida county’s election system was hacked. Since release of the report, the media and Florida officials have been seeking the name of the county.
Spring, 2016, Henry Oknyansky/Henry Greenberg
In the spring of 2016 a Florida-based Russian approached the Trump campaign and political activist and provocateur Roger Stone with an offer to sell damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
As stated in the Report:
“In the spring of 2016, Trump Campaign advisor Michael Caputo learned through a Florida-based Russian business partner that another Florida-based Russian, Henry Oknyansky (who also went by the name Henry Greenberg), claimed to have information pertaining to Hillary Clinton. Caputo notified Roger Stone and brokered communication between Stone and Oknyansky. Oknyansky and Stone set up a May 2016 in-person meeting.
“Oknyansky was accompanied to the meeting by Alexei Rasin, a Ukrainian associate involved in Florida real estate. At the meeting, Rasin offered to sell Stone derogatory information on Clinton that Rasin claimed to have obtained while working for Clinton. Rasin claimed to possess financial statements demonstrating Clinton’s involvement in money laundering with Rasin’s companies. According to Oknyansky, Stone asked if the amounts in question totaled millions of dollars but was told it was closer to hundreds of thousands. Stone refused the offer, stating that Trump would not pay for opposition research.”
According to the Report, Rasin was trying to make money by peddling the information and getting a cut if the information was sold. Despite his statements that he had worked for Clinton, there’s no evidence he ever did, according to the Report.
Despite being a director or registered agent for a number of Florida companies and having a Florida driver’s license, the Special Counsel’s office was unable to locate Rasin.
The Rasin-Oknyansky effort may have been separate from official Russian interference efforts, according to the Report.
July 27, 2016, Trump’s Doral, Fla., press conference.
It was at this Doral, Fla., press conference that President Donald Trump made his infamous remark: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” There are repeated references to this press conference throughout the report, starting on page 18. As the Report notes: “Within five hours of Trump’s remark, a Russian intelligence service began targeting email accounts associated with Hillary Clinton for possible hacks.”
Mar-a-lago, Palm Beach, Fla.
President Trump’s Mar-a-lago resort figures several times in the Report.
It was here in the Spring of 2016 that Paul Manafort was hired as campaign manager, initially without pay.
It was also at Mar-a-lago that on Dec. 29, 2016 the Trump team first learned of President Barack Obama’s imposition of sanctions on Russia for election interference and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats.
Numerous members of the Presidential Transition Team, including Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and K.T. McFarland, who was slated to become deputy national security adviser, were at the resort.
There was an exchange of e-mails about the impact of the sanctions. National Security Advisor-designate Michael Flynn was in the Dominican Republic and spoke by phone with McFarland. Flynn told McFarland that he would be speaking to Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak. He did so that evening and urged the ambassador not to allow the situation to escalate by retaliating. The following day, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced there would be no retaliation.
Conclusion: Russian efforts past and future
It remains to be seen if the Florida county where Russian spearfishing succeeded will be revealed. But what the Mueller Report really brings out was the depth and breadth of the Russian election interference effort. With Florida a key battleground state and the home of Mar-a-lago, there was considerable Russian effort expended here.
Most importantly, the Mueller Report is a critical warning for the 2020 election: Florida is in the crosshairs. The Russians will be back.