Special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian organizations for allegedly interfering in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections with the intention of promoting President Donald Trump’s candidacy by posting as American activists, creating Facebook groups and organizing fake rallies.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a press conference Friday that the Russians “allegedly conducted what they called ‘information warfare’ against the United States,” with the goal of “spreading distrust against candidates and the political system in general.”
Charges listed in the 37-page indictment include conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, and they are the most direct allegation to date of illegal Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Some of the defendants communicated with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said, adding there “there is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
The indictment, brought by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia on Friday, charges all of the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft.
Rosenstein said his team has not had communication with Russia about the indictments and would go through normal channels for the extradition of those indicted. However, the U.S. government has no extradition treaty with Russia. In the past, Russia has not cooperated with these requests.
The indictment states that “from in or around 2014 to the present, defendant knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
Those charged operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences, among them YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They supported the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump and disparaged Hillary Clinton. They used their fictitious online personas to distribute derogatory information about Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Mario Rubio and to support Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
They used election-related hashtags such as #MAGA, #Trump2016, #TrumpTrain, #IWontProtectHillary and #Hillary4Prison.