Documents show a Moscow think tank led by Russian President Vladimir Putin had outlined how Russia planned to interfere in the U.S. presidential election using propaganda on social media, Reuters reports.
U.S. officials said the documents made by the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies recommended a social media campaign back in June 2016 to encourage voters to choose a candidate who would be softer on Russia than then-President Obama.
Another RISS document in October advised that since Hillary Clinton was considered likely to win, Russia needed to end pro-Trump propaganda and focus its messaging on voter fraud in order to undermine Clinton's presidency.
These documents were key to the Obama administration's conclusion that Russia interfered in the election by a combination of cyberattacks against Democratic Party groups and "fake news" that supported its message.
Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map.
The RISS documents allege Putin was intimately involved with the hacks. But a spokesperson for government-run news agency Sputnik dismissed reports of involvement as an "absolute pack of lies."
Officials said news sites RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik were involved in the propaganda, as they were urged to publish pro-Trump and anti-Clinton articles. At one point, Russian bloggers launched a Twitter campaign to question the fairness of Clinton's assumed victory, according to intelligence documents.
The intelligence agencies did not determine whether or not the Russian efforts were the tipping point. So far, no evidence has shown the Trump administration colluded with Russia to alter the outcome.
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The RISS director at the time the documents were written, Leonid Reshetnikov, is a former lieutenant general in Russia's foreign intelligence website, according to the RISS website. On January 31, Putin congratulated Reshetnikov for his service.