The FBI is investigating whether far-right news websites contributed to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to a new report.
The probe is focused on discovering whether Russian operatives used conservative outlets to help spread stories favoring now-President Trump, McClatchy said Monday.
McClatchy confirmed with two people familiar with the inquiry that the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division is driving the investigation.
The sources said Russian operatives seemingly strategically timed computer commands called “bots” to blitz social media with pro-Trump stories.
The bots were used at times when Trump appeared struggling with 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE, they continued.
McClatchy’s sources said the bots mainly created millions of Facebook and Twitter posts linking to articles on far-right websites including Breitbart News, InfoWars and the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News.
The sources added that some of the stories were false or contained a mixture of fact and fiction.
Federal investigators are now examining whether the far-right news organizations took any actions aiding Russian operatives, they said.
The bots could have amplified pro-Trump news on Facebook and Twitter, regardless of the outlets’ knowledge or involvement, the pair of sources noted.
“This may be one of the most impactful information operations in the history of intelligence,” one former U.S. intelligence official told McClatchy, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the matter’s sensitivity.
FBI Director James Comey earlier Monday confirmed the Department of Justice (DOJ) is scrutinizing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 race, including any possible ties between Moscow and officials from Trump’s election campaign.
“As you know our practice is not to confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation,” he said during a House Intelligence Committee hearing.
“But in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so,” Comey added, noting the DOJ had authorized him to break bureau policy and publicly disclose the probe.
"This is one of those circumstances. I can promise you we will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Comey added the FBI’s investigation began in late July and will include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.