Candidates weigh in on Russian-style interference in Alabama’s 2017 U.S. Senate race

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Alabama’s 2017 U.S. Senate special election included a number of unexpected turns: U.S. Mo Brooks being called a friend of now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sexual abuse allegations against Roy Moore, and Democrat Doug Jones won the seat in a huge upset.

Now the race is drawing new scrutiny with reports that some Jones backers mimicked Russian election interference tactics, as first reported by the New York Times.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore lost the race to Jones. He has long called the victory illegitimate, blaming vote fraud and false claims against him.

The recent revelations that a tech billionaire Reid Hoffman – who has denied any knowledge of a disinformation campaign - helped fund an effort aimed at discrediting Moore, has brought Moore back to Twitter.

Moore hadn’t tweeted since late 2017, but he started back Wednesday, calling attention to the claims. He tweeted:

For his part, Jones said he didn’t know anything about it.

“It’s that people in this country that was taking that Russian playbook and it’s just wrong,” Jones said in late December. “I mean it’s absolutely wrong. Obviously we had no knowledge of it.”

The New York Times report found the disinformation effort included a Facebook page aimed at dividing Alabama conservatives and a Twitter push that included creating thousands of fake Twitter followers for Moore, many with Russian names and Cyrillic writing.

But at least part of that effort was noticed during the election. WHNT News 19 reported in October 2017, that when he asked about the Twitter growth seemingly overnight, Moore pointed the finger at Jones.

“It is more likely that Doug Jones and Democratic operatives are pulling a political stunt on Twitter and alerting their friends in the media,” Moore said in a 2017 news release. “It’s not surprising that they’d choose the favorite topic of MSNBC and the Fake News outlets – the Russia conspiracy.”

That was on October 17, 2017, about two months before election day.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has said he’ll look at an investigation, but it’s not clear where campaign free speech ends and fraud begins.

Marshall’s office declined comment Thursday on whether an investigation is underway.

Jones also says federal investigators should get involved.

“What I’d like to see, candidly, is for the Federal Elections commission to look at it and the Department of Justice, take a strong look at this to see if there were any laws that were violated,” Jones said.

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