A federal grand jury last week indicted 13 Russians and three Russian corporations for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. The case is being brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that has detailed a sophisticated attempt to engage in information warfare against the US to influence the election.
The Russian citizens are being accused of setting a goal to sow discord in the US election process and the US political system generally. The indictment, which is the first that has been filed against Russians as part of the Mueller probe, has returned the national focus to election meddling activities that occurred from Russia during the run up to the last presidential election.
The Department of Justice has also made clear that the indictment does not make any allegation that said interference changed what happened in the presidential race. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stated that there is no allegation in the federal indictment that any American was a knowing part of the illegal activity. There also is no allegation that the federally charged conduct changed the election.
President Trump reacted to the federal indictments by noting Rosenstein’s comment that the results of the election were not affected by the activity of the Russians. He noted in a tweet that the results of the presidential election were not affected and the Trump campaign did nothing wrong.
According to the 37 page indictment, the actions that were laid out by federal prosecutors go back four years to 2014. The Russian defendants are accused by DOJ of spreading negative information about Hillary Clinton and running down Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who were candidates for the Republican nomination. They also are accused of also supporting Bernie Sanders, who was Clinton’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, and also Donald Trump. The indictment states that the defendants were spreading negative information during the 2016 campaign and by mid 2016, were in support of Trump’s campaign. Rosenstein said however that after the election, the Russians worked to stage rallies that favored and also opposed Trump.
He added that the Russian organization Internet Research Agency had a sophisticated operation. Rosenstein stated that the scheme involved setting up social media accounts by the hundreds and using fake identities to make it look like the accounts were controlled by people in the US. He noted the defendants posed as politically active citizens of the US and were recruiting real Americans to do rallies and engage in various political actions. But those real Americans were unaware that they were actually communicating with Russians.
According to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress and the American people have known that Russians were trying to influence the election, but the indictments show the level of the deceptions attempted. The Russians in this plot were engaging in a systematic and sinister attack on the American political system. He also said it was an effort to subvert the US electoral process and to damage the American political system.
Democrats on Capitol Hill stated that people associated with the Trump campaign may have been involved in the meddling by Russia. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated that it is important that the Special Counsel investigation be able to continue to investigate the facts of the Russia scandal that she ways may have involved the Trump campaign. She noted that Americans have a right to know the full degree to which Russians were involved in our election.
Trump would not answer shouted questions from the media as he left the White House for his Florida retreat late last week. But a White House statement noted that Trump said America cannot allow anyone to try to sow discord, rancor and confusion to ever be successful. Trump said that the partisan attacks on the issue should stop, as well as what he called wild and false allegations. Trump noted that these activities just serve the agenda of bad people such as some Russians, and do not protect the country.
The special counsel stated the indictment has charged the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the US, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and bank theft. Five defendants also were charged with aggravated identity theft. The three organizations that have been charged are Internet Research Agency, Concord Management and Consulting, and Concord Catering.
The names of the 13 Russians charged are: Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin; Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov; Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik; Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova; Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva; Sergey Pavlovich Polozov; Maria Anatolyrvna Bovda; Robert Sergetevich Bovda; Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly; Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev; Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko; Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina and Vladimir Venkov.
The federal indictment states that Internet Research Agency had registered with the Russian government as a corporation in 2013. It allegedly employed hundreds of people for online operations and had a budget of millions of dollars US. Prosecutors have accused the Russians of working with a real person in the US that was affiliated with a grassroots organization in Texas. They learned to focus most of their efforts in Florida, Virginia and Colorado.
The indictment states that the employees created Facebook and other social media accounts to look as if they were run by Americans. They created group Facebook pages and Instagram accounts with names such as Blacktivist, Secured Borders, United Muslims of America and Army of Jesus. They also used pro Trump and anti Clinton hashtags including #Trump2016,” “#TrumpTrain,” “#MAGA,” “#IWontProtectHillary,” and “Hillary4Prison.”
The indictment adds that the defendants in the second half of 2016 were encouraging minority groups in the US to not vote in the 2016 election or to vote third party. An Instagram account they controlled was called Woke Blacks and posted an October 2016 message stated that ‘we would be better off not voting at all.’
The indictment concludes that Richard Pindedo, 28, from California, has pleaded guilty to identity fraud in the federal investigation. According to a prosecutor filing, Pinedo sold bank account numbers online as part of the scandal.