Top Trump campaign adviser admits he was 'fooled' by a Russian Twitter bot

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

Brad Parscale, the digital media director for President Trump’s 2016 election campaign, admitted during an interview with Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff that he was duped by a Russian Twitter bot . Parscale, who spoke with Isikoff at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, on Wednesday, was one of several top Trump allies who retweeted messages posted by the Twitter account @TEN_GOP during last year’s campaign. While the account purported to be run by “Tennessee Republicans,” it was recently revealed to have been operated by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency.

Parscale said the fault lay with Twitter for allowing accounts to obscure their provenance.

“I wish Twitter would make that more obvious,” he said.

The message Parscale retweeted read, “Thousands of deplorables chanting to the media: ‘Tell The Truth!’ RT if you are also done w/ biased Media!” Tweets from the @TEN_GOP account were also shared by counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Donald Trump Jr., among others. The Internet Research Agency is a Russian organization that employs trolls who have been identified as a major part of the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere with last year’s election. Parscale is the first Trump campaign official to acknowledge his interactions with the account since the revelations about its Russian roots.

When Isikoff first asked him about his interaction with @TEN_GOP, Parscale said he did not know about its Russian origins. Parscale also defended the substance of the account’s antimedia message.

I was retweeting knowing that the media’s biased,” Parscale said.

At the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Yahoo News Chief Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff talked to Brad Parscale, Digital Director from the Donald J. Trump Presidential Campaign about getting duped by a Russian Twitter bot. (Websummit.com via Yahoo News)

Parscale said he was “not sorry” about the incident, before backtracking slightly. “I mean, I’m just — I can’t take back what I already tweeted. I mean, yeah, it’s unfortunate,” said Parscale. “Yes, I feel bad that it was a — it was not a Tennessee account — that I got fooled that it was a Tennessee GOP account.”

He added: “Millions of people retweet tweets. You don’t have any idea who’s behind that account. You know, I agree with the message. The media’s biased. Did I have any idea who’s behind it? No. If it would have been a Russian flag and IP up there … would I retweet it? No.”

Isikoff pressed Parscale on whether being tricked by the account made him feel “manipulated” by the Russian government. Parscale was incredulous, remarking, “Do I feel manipulated by Russia for retweeting one tweet?”

Twitter and other social media companies are facing increased scrutiny for hosting Russian accounts that posed as American users and accepting political ads that originated in Russia.

Isikoff also asked Parscale about his own ad campaign for Trump. Parscale helped run a much vaunted plan that used Facebook to run a high volume of campaign ads that were targeted to highly specific audiences. He told Isikoff that on “a couple peak days” during the election, Trump’s campaign had over 150,000 different social media posts running as part of the effort.

Some of the most successful ads, according to Parscale, touted Trump’s promise to improve American infrastructure. He said the Trump team’s social media analysis indicated this issue would resonate with voters.

“There were certain portions of the country where infrastructure was a place that was a not-seen little element,” said Parscale. “When you start getting into data … and you do that much research … and polling … and you start to build up universes and seeing what’s out there in the electorate happening, data lets you point that direction and it lets you find things within Mr. Trump’s agenda.”

Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital media director, arrives to speak on the third day of the 7th Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Nov. 8, 2017. (Photo: Miguel A. Lopes/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

But Isikoff pointed out that, exactly a year after the election, there’s been “no infrastructure plan introduced by President Trump in Congress” and “no action on that whatsoever.”

“So you told voters, ‘Vote for Donald Trump and … he’s going to repair your roads and bridges.’ And here we are, and he’s done none of that. Did you con the voters that you were targeting?” Isikoff asked.

“No. He’s got three years left to still fix infrastructure,” Parscale replied. “I think he has a lot of time still. He’s trying to get working on tax reform right now.”

Full Interview

Trump’s tax reform push comes after his efforts at health care reform failed. So far Trump has not succeeded in pushing through any major legislation. Isikoff questioned Parscale on whether he’s disappointed that Trump “hasn’t done more.”

“I think he’s done a ton. I think he’s done more than any president we’ve had in a long time,” said Parscale.

In July, Parscale accepted a request to testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s election. At the time, Parscale denied there was any collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s campaign. During his conversation with Isikoff, Parscale said he supported the probes into Russia’s role in the presidential race.

“I hope they figure out everything that happened and what it is and prevent it from happening in the future,” Parscale said. “I’ve always been fully supportive of the investigation.”

Isikoff noted this position is slightly different from Trump’s. The president has repeatedly criticized the Russia probes, specifically the investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“You’d have to ask him that,” Parscale said of Trump. “I don’t speak for the president.”

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