Americas: United States
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office indicts 13 Russians and three Russian companies for attempting to undermine American democracy and actively influence the 2016 presidential election; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein declares that the 13 defendants allegedly conducted "information warfare against the United States"
On Feb. 16, 2018, the office of United States Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies for carrying out an operation aimed at undermining American democracy and actively influencing the 2016 presidential election campaign.
The indictments centered on allegations of a Russian propaganda operation, involving criminality and espionage conspiracy, and aimed with tampering in the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States, with the objective of supporting Donald Trump and damaging Hillary Clinton.
The indictments detailed a long and sophisticated operation by Russian entities, known as "Project Lakhta," which commenced in 2014 but aimed at influencing the 2016 election. The court document specifically noted that those accused "had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election."
The court document also detailed ways the Russians exploited fake online personas to advance divisive messages and even traveled to the United States while posing as Americans to orchestrate political rallies. To these ends, the charges included conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud, bank fraud and identity theft. Indeed the list of unlawful acts by the Russians included the use of stolen social security numbers and birth dates of American citizens to open PayPal accounts, and also to exploit on social media using those false identities.
It should be noted that there was little chance that the 13 individuals named would ever face court in the United states given the lack of an extradition treaty between the United states and Russia.
Absent from the court document was any mention of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, although that angle continued to be part of the Mueller investigation. These particular charges centered on Russian actors operating during the campaign season. It did not focus on possible engagements between members of the Trump campaign and Russian contacts, and it did not focus on any possible obstruction of justice elements that might be under scrutiny from the time of the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey.
That being said, the indictment did note that some of the individuals charged were posing as Americans and had, indeed, "communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign."
Via twitter, President Donald Trump appeared to indirectly acknowledge Russia interference into the 2016 election, something he consistently disputed to date. He tweeted: "Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!"
In Russia, the reaction was marked by vociferous denial with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova casting the allegations as "absurd" and asking on Facebook, "13 against the billions' budgets of the secret services?"
Still, these indictments issued by Mueller's office reflected the findings of the United States' intelligence assessment of late 2016-early 2017, which concluded that Russia had interfered in the presidential election, with the goal of helping Trump and hurting Clinton.
At a press briefing, United States Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein declared that the 13 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."
-- Feb. 19, 2018
Denise Youngblood Coleman, PhD.
President and Editor in Chief