The Russian Foreign Ministry has already called the indictments “absurd.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States, the Department of Justice announced Friday.
In addition, three defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft.
“The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said.
Mueller had convened the grand jury as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as any possible connections between Russia and Trump campaign associates.
The sweeping indictment describes in detail an unprecedented campaign by Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, affirming the longstanding conclusions of the US intelligence community. It is at odds with President Donald Trump’s repeated questioning of those conclusions, which has continued throughout his first year in office. CNN reported this week that Trump is still not convinced that Russia meddled in the election.
Trump emphasized the lack of allegations of any impact on the presidential election.
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” he tweeted. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
In a statement, the White House said Trump was fully briefed on the indictments and “is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates— that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.”
Earlier today, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced indictments against 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, which began in 2014 before the President declared his candidacy. President Donald J. Trump has been fully briefed on this matter and is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates—that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.
President Trump says, “it is more important than ever before to come together as Americans. We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”
FBI Director Chris Wray and Rosenstein briefed the President on the indictments at the White House on Friday morning, a White House official said.
Beginning as early as 2014, the Russian organization Internet Research Agency began operations to interfere with the US political system, including the 2016 elections, according to the indictment.
The defendants allegedly posed as US persons, created false US personas and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences, the indictment reads.
The Internet Research Agency had a “strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system” including the election, according to the indictment.
Russians posted “derogatory information about a number of candidates,” and by mid-2016 they supported Trump and disparaged Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. They bought ads and communicated with “unwitting” people tied to Trump campaign and others to coordinate political activities.
Rosenstein said Friday that the indictment does not contain any allegations that any Americans knowingly participated in the activity.
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he said. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Rosenstein added that the special counsel’s investigation is ongoing.
Social media tactics
According to the indictment, the Russians created an email address, allforusa@, to purport to be a US person in order to send out press releases in June 2016 for a “March for Trump” rally to New York media outlets.
The defendants allegedly used a Facebook account belonging to a fictitious person named Matt Skiber, posing as an American to contact a real US citizen to act as a recruiter for the rally, even offering money to print posters and buy a megaphone.
The advertisements weren’t limited to Trump. They also allegedly purchased ads on Facebook to promote “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims” rally to allege Clinton was supporting Islamic law. They also allegedly bought ads to promote a “Down with Hillary” rally.
The defendants focused on key purple states during the election. The Skiber account allegedly sent a private message to a real Facebook account, “Florida for Trump,” to offer support. They also allegedly used a stolen identity of a real US citizen to email grassroots groups in Florida.
The defendants allegedly attempted to cover their tracks after social media companies, including Facebook, publicly disclosed in September 2017 that they had identified Russians purchasing political and social advertisements on its platform and after media reports noted the company was cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation.
“We have a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with colleagues,” one of the defendants wrote, according to the indictment.
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