Was FEC gatekeeper handing out political ads as a Russia hack started?

This story has been updated to include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s response to two letters from FEC Commissioner Wynn Schwartz. Frances Haugen, the former Democratic FEC commissioner, is being considered for a post at…

Was FEC gatekeeper handing out political ads as a Russia hack started?

This story has been updated to include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s response to two letters from FEC Commissioner Wynn Schwartz.

Frances Haugen, the former Democratic FEC commissioner, is being considered for a post at the Federal Election Commission, and it appears that she has been a gatekeeper for some of the most important information circulating around the Trump campaign and the Russians.

The Washington Post and New York Times reported this week that the FBI is investigating evidence that the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign and various political operatives helped prepare “opposition research” for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Much of the information was allegedly sourced to UK-based Russia watchdog group, Guccifer 2.0, but the evidence was linked to an account registered to a New Hampshire resident named Kyle Chapman.

Haugen was the first FEC commissioner to release what turned out to be a hasty response to inquiries by the Federal Election Commission on the issue.

In July 2016, Guccifer 2.0 claimed to have, among other things, a list of 10 states with voter registration offices that it planned to release to the press shortly after an upcoming primary contest in the state. A Politico reporter managed to get their hands on that list on July 22nd, and it included the names of 16 South Carolina judges, plus the potential addresses of 39 of them.

To see this list as it was supposed to be distributed in South Carolina, you’d have to trace it to the CPF account from which the information was stolen, which is how Washington Post reporters cited this leak in their story, and tweeted screenshots.

At the time, Haugen sent a sharply worded statement to the FEC.

“It is unfortunate that this information has been seized upon and then disseminated to the public, which raises grave concerns as to the safety of the very judges and citizens described in this account,” she wrote.

For six months, the FBI has refused to confirm or deny whether the bureau is investigating.

But Washington Post, New York Times and Politico reporters confirmed with US officials that that’s indeed what’s going on.

Officials say Chapman was able to circulate the list because he was known by a large number of South Carolina-based news reporters, and therefore contributed to the ease with which the list could spread.

Chapman ran a person-to-person ad network, which delivered political ads to scores of small websites. He got his start as a troll-style Twitter troll, but recently abandoned the tactics and switched to using Person to Person, where user would contact one another to swap information.

Chapman also targeted US elected officials and was especially fond of President Trump, telling one reporter he admired his schtick.

At the time of the leak, Chapman claimed to be in legal trouble in the UK for his attempted IP hijacking, and was skeptical of Guccifer 2.0’s authenticity. He told other trolls in an internet forum that the Guccifer 2.0 is “a clown” and said the link they were looking at was probably fake.

He’s certainly had some kind of Russian connections. Chapman is known for posting a series of anti-Semitic messages on Facebook, sometimes in Russian.

The Guccifer 2.0 email address linked to Chapman originally turned out to be a form one for the Ukrainian antivirus firm Malwarebytes, but sources close to the investigation say it’s also connected to Russian malware. That info made its way to Guccifer 2.0, and Chapman’s Twitter account claimed to be a malware tracker.

The Post article from July quoted “multiple law enforcement officials” that said Chapman was believed to be working for a Russian spy agency known as the GRU, which has been linked to Russian cyberattacks on political targets, including the DNC hack.

We’ve reached out to Chapman for comment, but as of this writing he hadn’t responded.

Update: This post has been updated to include comments from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Haugen was appointed to the FEC by President Obama in 2012, but opted to leave in 2015 after criticizing the FEC’s lack of independence. She was succeeded by Republican Ann Ravel, who stepped down in May 2017.

Frances L Oganes, The Washington Post.

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