Timeline of Russian Involvement in 2016 US Elections
Summer 2013: After relying on a decentralized network of web brigades/troll farms for attacking Kremlin enemies and defending Russian authorities, pro-Putin groups create the Internet Research Agency (IRA). Funding for the St. Petersburg-based organization, possibly to the tune of $10 million a year, allegedly comes from Evgeny Prigozhin, a well-connected restaurateur who catered for Putin’s 2012 inauguration.
October 2013: First reports of English-language Russian trolls. They provide a general defense of Russian foreign policy and attack American foreign policy. No evidence of partisan bias at this point.
September 2014: Several hoaxes attributed to IRA. Some are apolitical, like ones about a Columbian Chemicals leak and the spread of Ebola. Others attacked Obama and the US government in general. The goal was likely to see whether trolls are capable of generating a reaction in the real world.
November 2014: Evidence of IRA’s campaign to turn the American public against its government and each other. Mostly consists of making inflammatory comments on NY Times and Washington Post stories and posting on Facebook. Some trolls visit the US, making contact with Americans, though there’s little evidence of success.
November 2015: Heart of Texas, a Texan secessionist Facebook page, created by Russian trolls. It would go on to have a quarter of a million followers. This page, like many others, was intended to create anger at the US government. Still not overtly partisan.
March 2016: Trump wins a series of primaries. For the first time, he’s consistently polling at over 40% in the Republican primaries. It becomes increasingly likely that Trump will win the nomination.
March 2016: Coordinated effort by Russian intelligence services, media, and troll farms to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign and to prop up Donald Trump’s. Despite gaining access to DNC servers in July 2015, Russian foreign intelligence (GRU) only starts hacking personal accounts of Democrats at this point, most notably using phishing to obtain the details of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Russian state-controlled English-language TV station RT and website Sputnik become overtly partisan, regularly attacking Clinton, including by utilizing the “Crooked Hillary” hashtag, and defending Trump.
April 2016: George Papadopoulos, a Trump advisor, is told about the DNC hack by Joseph Mifsud, a Malta-born academic with connections to the Kremlin.
July 2016: WikiLeaks leaks DNC emails to the public. Julian Assange, head of WikiLeaks and widely believed to work with if not for Russian intelligence, admits that the release — immediately before the Democratic Convention — was timed to cause maximum damage to Hillary Clinton.
August 2016: Guccifer 2.0, the DNC hacker and likely a front for the GRU, sends relatively unknown GOP consultant Aaron Nevins hacked data relating to DNC’s turnout operations. After Nevins posts some of the information on his minor blog, Guccifer 2.0 sends the link to Trump advisor Roger Stone.
September 2016: Jeff Sessions, Trump’s future Attorney General, has an undisclosed private meeting with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. They allegedly discuss Trump’s position on issues important to Russia, including sanctions.
October 2016: WikiLeaks repeatedly messages Donald Trump Jr. and offers election-related advice, advice that he does not reject.
November 2016: The day before the election, fake Russian social media accounts and Russian bots amplify Trump’s message about electoral fraud. The goal is to create post-election chaos and help undermine faith in the American electoral system. They likely expected Trump to lose. The same accounts drop the electoral fraud story immediately after Trump wins the election.
December 2016: Michael Flynn, Trump’s future National Security Advisor, has multiple secret conversations with Sergey Kislyak.
Russia does not retaliate after Obama seizes Russian diplomatic property in the US as punishment for interference in the elections.
January 2017: The existence of the Steele Dossier — documents gathered by a former British intelligence operative — is made public. Its central claim is Russian possession of compromising information about Donald Trump.
February 2017: Michael Flynn quits from his role as National Security Advisor over potentially illegal contact with the Russian ambassador and alleged lies about said encounters to VP, Mike Pence.
March 2017: Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General, recuses himself from Russia investigations after admitting to not disclosing two meetings with Sergey Kislyak.
May 2016: Trump fires FBI Director James Comey, who was heading an FBI investigation into potential collusion between Russia and Trump officials.
May 2016: The Justice Department appoints Robert Mueller to investigate ties between Russia and the Trump investigation. The appointment comes on the heels of Trump firing James Comey for refusing to clear Michael Flynn for his own Russia-related actions.
October 2016: George Papadopoulos secretly pleads guilty to lying to FBI investigators over several meetings with individuals with ties to the Russian government.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, indicted for money laundering relating to his work for the Russia-backed former leader of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych.