Russian meddling in NC elections? Someone in Moscow bought a candidate's website name

A man listing a Russian residence bought the website address congressional candidate Linda Coleman used when she ran for statewide office two years ago.

Coleman, a Democrat, said her campaign team and website consultant found the site this week when they Googled her name. The search returned that web address she used in the 2016 race for lieutenant governor rather than her site for her 2018 congressional campaign.

Ivan Gusev, who lists a Moscow apartment building as his address, bought the domain name in January. The phone number with the account doesn't work, and appears to not include a proper area code. Gusev didn't respond to an email.

Coleman said there was an attempt to rebuild the website to mimic her lieutenant governor campaign site. Coleman said she did not renew her old domain name because she is running for a different office.

She said Friday it was important to bring evidence of tampering to public attention.

"Underhanded and deceptive strategies like this one only thrive when people choose not to speak out about what they see before them," Coleman said.

"I urge the other candidates in the 2nd District and races across the country to be vigilant," Coleman said. "I don't know for what purpose this website was created. We all need to be wary and protect ourselves from similar attempts to deceive our voters and the general public."

Coleman is a candidate for the 2nd District seat now held by U.S. Rep. George Holding. The Democrat who wins the May primary — either Coleman, Ken Romley or Wendy Ella May — will face Holding if he defeats Allen Chesser in the Republican primary. The race also includes a Libertarian, Jeff Matemu.

Coleman's announcement comes as news of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election continues to unfold and experts caution that states remain vulnerable to Russian interference in this year's elections.

Indictments released by special prosecutor Robert Mueller allege a post-election "Charlotte Against Trump" rally in November 2016 was organized by Russians.

Stolen Democratic Party emails involved elections in about a dozen congressional districts in 2016, including the Democratic primary for the 12th District in Charlotte. U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia was behind the hacks.

Coleman said her campaign contacted the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, state Attorney General Josh Stein's office, and the FBI in Charlotte.

The state elections board said it contacted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by phone and email as soon as it found out.

"We obviously take the security of North Carolina elections very seriously," state elections spokesman Patrick Gannon said in an email. "To that end, we are in frequent contact with staff at the Department of Homeland Security to strengthen our defenses against issues like those flagged by the Coleman campaign today."

An FBI spokeswoman said in an email that agency doesn't "disclose information regarding specific tips we receive or investigations we open."

Stein's spokeswoman said his office has been in touch with Coleman's campaign to offer advice, but it's up to federal authorities to investigate.

"The Attorney General continues to be very concerned about Russian meddling in U.S. elections," spokeswoman Laura Brewer said in an email. "He is working with partners at every level of government to address Russian meddling in our elections."

Lynn Bonner: lbonner@newsobserver.com; @Lynn_Bonner
Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer