The Department of Justice announced on Friday that a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. approved an indictment against 13 Russians for their efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
The 37-page indictment signed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller says that Russian came to America with the “strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system including the 2016 election” as early as 2014.
The new charges allege that Russians, who were given a multi-million dollar monthly budget, created false U.S. personas and stole identities of real U.S. citizens in order to meddle in the 2016 election and carry out information warfare.
In a press conference, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the Russians wanted to “promote discord in the United States.”:
“The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy.”
The indictment says the efforts began in 2014 when a Russian based organization, Internet Research Agency, used social media platforms to spread divisive messages leading up to the 2016 election.
Russian operatives wanted to help then-candidate Donald Trump and hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton:
“Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton. Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities.”
Russian operatives are also alleged to have organized political rallies and coordinated with grassroots organizations through the country. The indictment says that Russians focused their efforts in swing states such as Colorado, Virginia, and Florida.
The indictment also states that Russian operatives staged protests against President Trump after the election.
The defendants are being charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Three defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants face charges of aggravated identity theft.
A California man, Richard Pinedo, pleaded guilty to identity fraud on Friday shortly after the Mueller indictment was released. Pinedo sold bank account numbers over the Internet to helped circumvent security protocols online digital payment companies.
Rosenstein added that the Russian efforts did not alter the outcome of the 2016 presidential election:
“There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
The indictment also says that some Russians disguised their identities and communicated with ‘unwitting’ associates of the Trump campaign:
“Some defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”
During the press conference, Rosenstein stated that there is “no allegation” that Americans knowingly worked with Russians to swing the election:
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.”
Hours after the announcement of the indictment, President Trump took to Twitter to highlight that the Justice Department said the Russian efforts began in 2014 and there is not an allegation of Russian collusion:
However, Congressional Democrats were not convinced that Friday’s news meant that the collusion theory was dead. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) released a statement Trump’s handling of the Russia investigation:
“The Special Counsel’s indictment makes absolutely clear that the Russians perpetrated a strategic effort to undermine and influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election to support the campaign of Donald Trump, and are continuing to interfere with our elections. As desperately as President Trump insists that the Special Counsel investigation is a ‘hoax’, these latest indictments build on multiple guilty pleas and indictments of several Trump campaign officials, demonstrating the gravity of the Trump-Russia scandal.”
In a White House statement, the president was quoted as saying America must take action to prevent foreign meddling in future elections:
“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.”
Rosenstein noted that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is ongoing.