A federal grand jury issued indictments Friday for 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies suspected of interfering in the 2016 election, the special counsel’s office announced.
According to the indictment, signed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Russian nationals began conspiring as early as 2014 to interfere “with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
Part of the scheme involved defendants posing as Americans and communicating “with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”
In a press briefing held shortly after the indictment was announced, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that there was no allegation in the indictment that “any American” — including members of the Trump campaign — “was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.”
Rosenstein also said that “there is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
According to the indictment, the Russian operatives used three companies — the Internet Research Agency, Concord Management and Concord Catering — to carry out the scheme.
Dubbed the “translator project,” the campaign began in April 2014 and employed hundreds of Russian operatives tasked with using fictitious online personas to sow discord on social media platforms.
The goal of the project was “information warfare against the United States of America,” the indictment asserts.
The scheme involved intelligence gathering activities inside the U.S. as well as interactions with U.S. political activists.
Two defendants, Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva, traveled to the U.S. in 2014 to gather intelligence as part of the project. Between June 4, 2016 and June 26, 2016, Krylova and Bogacheva several states, including New York, California, New Mexico and Texas to gather intelligence.
The Russians also purchased space on computer servers inside the U.S. in order to mask their activities.
The operation advanced in several stages over the two-plus years leading up to the election. The indictment suggests that many of the efforts were aimed at hurting Hillary Clinton’s election chances by boosting her opponents, including Donald Trump, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
In April 2016, the Russians began paying for political advertisements on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. By June 2016, they began organizing political rallies, largely aimed at supporting Trump and criticizing Clinton.
On Aug. 18, 2016, Russians posing as U.S. citizens paid a political group “to build a case large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.”
And on Sept. 9, 2016, Russian operatives wired money to a person who dressed up as Clinton at a rally in Florida to travel to New York to dress up as the Democrat.
The Russians also posed as U.S. citizens in order to contact three separate Florida-based Trump campaign aides, according to the indictment. The contacts were made between Aug. 18 and Aug. 20, 2016.
As noted in the indictment and by Rosenstein, there is no indication that the Trump campaign officials were aware that they were in contact with Russians.
The operation continued even after Trump’s election victory. But in addition to holding rallies to support Trump, the operatives also organized counter-rallies “protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
There is little evidence that the social media scheme altered the outcome of the election, as Democrats have claimed. Trump has asserted that Russian interference had no affect on the election results.
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