A federal grand jury on Friday indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, laying out a detailed case alleging that they used fraudulent social media accounts to try and boost Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictments — a product of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — on Friday at the Department of Justice.
In a news conference announcing the indictments, Rosenstein stressed that the indictment does not conclude that the alleged Russian interference impacted the outcome of the election.
But according to the 37-page indictment, the Russian organization “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system” by “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (”Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
Each defendant was charged with “conspiracy to defraud the United States.” Other charges include conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, as well as aggravated identity theft.
The indictments are a blow to Trump, who has continuously denied that Russians sought to help elect him president.
Buried within the indictments are a hint that Americans played a role in the alleged Russian efforts.
“Certain defendants traveled to the United States under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform defendants’ operations,” the indictment says. “Defendants also procured and used computer infrastructure, based partly in the United States, to hide the Russian origin of their activities to avoid detection by U.S. regulators and law enforcement.”
Even more, the indictment says “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign” communicated with the defendants who were “posing as U.S. persons.”
The indictments lay out a detailed account of how the 13 indicted individuals allegedly carried out their meddling campaign via paid advertisements on and organic posts on social media websites in an effort to “communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton” and “to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”
“Certain organization-produced materials about the 2016 U.S. presidential election used election-related hashtags, including: #Trump2016, #TrumpTrain, #MAGA, #IWontProtectHillary and #Hillary4Prison,” the indictment says.
The indictment also alleges that the Russian meddling campaign tried to “encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote” or “to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.”
And it alleges that the 13 indicted Russian nationals “organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States” in critical swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.
In a statement, Trump emphasized that the indictments did not indicate there was any collusion between his campaign and Russia, as well as the fact that Rosenstein said the “outcome of the election was not changed or affected” by the meddling.
Trump also called for American unity in the wake of the news.
“We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord and rancor to be successful,” Trump said in a statement. “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.”
Feb. 16, 2018 3:36 p.m.: This article has been updated.