National Post (National Edition) - - WORLD - NICK ALLEN

WASH­ING­TON • Vladimir Putin per­son­ally or­dered a cam­paign that amounted to “pro­pa­ganda on steroids” as he sought to steal the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion from Hil­lary Clin­ton, U.S. sen­a­tors say.

Thou­sands of “cy­ber trolls” based in Rus­sia were said to have pumped out “fake news” tar­get­ing vot­ers in key states such as Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia, all of which Trump won de­spite be­ing be­hind in polls.

Krem­lin-backed com­puter op­er­a­tives even sought to in­flu­ence Trump him­self, flood­ing his Twit­ter feed with con­spir­acy the­o­ries when they knew he was on­line, the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee was told at its first pub­lic hear­ing.

The hear­ing fo­cused on tac­tics Moscow is thought to em­ploy in spread­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion to in­flu­ence the opin­ions of Amer­i­cans and U.S. pol­icy. There were a few un­ex­pected rev­e­la­tions in the more than four hours of tes­ti­mony from his­to­ri­ans, cy­ber ex­perts and for­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials.

Putin is­sued his most em­phatic de­nial so far, call­ing the ac­cu­sa­tions that he med­dled in the U.S. elec­tion “non­sense, end­less, and ground­less.” He said: “Ron­ald Reagan was talk­ing about taxes once and said ‘Read my lips’ ... Read my lips — no.”

The quote was in fact from Ge­orge H. W. Bush.

Mark Warner, a Demo­cratic se­na­tor who is vicechair­man of the Se­nate com­mit­tee said “Vladimir Putin or­dered a de­lib­er­ate cam­paign care­fully con­structed to un­der­mine our elec­tion. There were paid In­ter­net trolls work­ing out of a fa­cil­ity in Rus­sia.

“This Rus­sian ‘pro­pa­ganda on steroids’ was de­signed to poi­son the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion in Amer­ica.”

On whether there were links be­tween Rus­sia and Trump’s cam­paign, Warner said “We are seek­ing to de­ter­mine whether there is an ac­tual fire, but there is a great, great deal of smoke.”

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