ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — INTERPOL agents have broken up a Russian troll farm accused of posting positive comments to the Instagram account of Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th, in order to make the congressman appear more attractive and likeable.
The arrest of 15 alleged Russian trolls came on the heels of an eight-month investigation aimed at stopping the spread of international election influence in the United States.
The group’s ringleader, Alexi Molontof, claims he was paid by operatives from the Republican National Congressional Committee (RNCC). However, a joint investigation by INTERPOL and the FBI has not turned up any concrete evidence specifically linking the group to the RNCC.
FBI agents were first alerted to the alleged trolling after Instagram employees noticed that more than 8,000 comments were added to Brat’s profile in a two-month period. The comments touted statements such as “Mr. Brat is such a nice person,” “Nice glasses, Mister Brat, very stylish,” and “You are so good at tying your necktie.”
“We thought it was suspicious that so many people had nice things to say about Rep. Brat,” Mike Abrams, an FBI agent with the Richmond field office, said. “I’ve never met anyone who likes the guy.”
The break in the case came after FBI agents found a record of a $2,500 Venmo payment made to Molontof from an intern associated with the Brat campaign, who pretended to be a member of the RNCC.
During a press conference, Phillip Brightman, a spokesperson for Brat, called the accusations of Brat’s involvement in the scandal baseless and without merit. “We are absolutely appalled by the accusations flung at Dave Brat,” Brightman said. “We determined that an over zealous intern hired the Russian trolls in order help grow the congressman’s Instagram presence. We have since terminated the intern in question.”
Brightman fervently asserted that Brat had no direct knowledge of or participation in the hiring of the Russian operatives. “Rep. Brat had absolutely nothing to do with this,” he said. “Our commitment to fair and honest campaigning is steadfast. Further, we do not believe Mr. Brat needs outside influence in order to win. The congressman has many fine qualities, including a strong jawline, a pleasant odor, and a handsome side part.”
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