Today the New York Times reported that former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates, who took a plea deal in the Mueller investigation, in 2016 solicited proposals to create fake online identities to help Trump’s campaign. Gates reportedly sought and received such proposals from an Israeli company, Psy-Group, whose owner, Joel Zamel, also reportedly met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in August of 2016. Psy-Group presented Gates, and therefore the campaign, with several proposals, including to use 40 or 50 people to create thousands of fake online identities to be used to sway 5,000 delegates to the Republican National Convention and to create psychological profiles of those delegates that could be then exploited to align what the fake identities were communicating with particular delegates’ interests. It does not appear that the Trump campaign went through with any of the proposals, even though it was the campaign, through Gates, that had brought the idea to Psy-Group, rather than the other way around.
It was not just delegates to the RNC that Gates was interested in swaying using fake online identities, but also to use them to aid Trump in the primaries and against Hillary Clinton. The aim was both intelligence gathering and manipulating voters and delegates through social media. On CNN earlier today one of the reporters from the Times story, Mark Mazzetti, said that Psy-Group proposed tasking “40 to 50 people to create thousands of different identities — fake personas on Twitter, Facebook, et cetera….And these would then target … delegates based on a psychological profile that the company built about the delegates — find out what most interested them. So you build a profile and use these avatars, bots, et cetera to spread messages, to try to influence their votes, to try to make sure that they stay on the Trump side”, according to The Hill:
Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates, who has pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller‘s special counsel investigation, sought proposals from an Israeli company in 2016 to create fake online identities in an effort to aid President Trump‘s campaign, The New York Times reported Monday…Gates sought a proposal from a company staffed by former Israeli intelligence officers, Psy-Group, to use fake identities to sway 5,000 Republican National Convention delegates by attacking Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), an opponent of Trump’s at the time, according to the Times…The Times reported that other proposals from the company included one that featured a plan to help Trump “by using social media to help expose or amplify division among rival campaigns and factions,” and another that offered opposition research about Clinton and her allies.
Rick Gates was top aide to then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Gates reached a plea agreement in Robert Mueller’s investigation, pleading guilty to conspiracy against the United States and making false statements to FBI agents, and testifying against Manafort at Manafort’s first trial, before Manafort’s own plea deal meant Manafort would not face his second scheduled trial.
The report in the New York Times indicates that there is no evidence that the Trump campaign went forward with the proposals, only evidence that Gates actively sought out these proposals to use fake online identities to help the Trump campaign. Even that much shows a lot about the ethics of the campaign, or lack thereof.