Shortly after noon on Friday, U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced an indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, accusing them of interfering in the 2016 presidential election and operating fake social media accounts.
In the indictment announced on Friday – the first criminal case to accuse Russians of seeking to influence the outcome of the U.S. election and support Donald Trump – Mueller describes a sweeping, years-long, multimillion-dollar conspiracy by hundreds of Russians aimed at criticizing Hillary Clinton and supporting Senator Bernie Sanders and Trump. He charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities and accused them of defrauding the U.S. government by interfering with the political process.
Mueller charges “defendants 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 deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
The indictment adds that the Russians “were instructed to post content that focused on ‘politics in the USA’ and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them)’.”
It gets better: the defendants reportedly worked day and night shifts to pump out messages, controlling pages targeting a range of issues, including immigration, Black Lives Matter, and they amassed hundreds of thousands of followers. They set up and used servers inside the U.S. to mask the Russian origin of the accounts.
Ultimately, and this is the punchline, the goal was to disparage Hillary Clinton and to assist the election of Donald Trump.
In other words, anyone who was disparaging Clinton, may have “unwittingly” been a collaborator of the 13 Russian “specialists” who cost Hillary the election.
The Russian organization named in the indictment – the Internet Research Agency – and the defendants began working in 2014 – so one year before the Trump candidacy was even announced – to interfere in U.S. elections, according to the indictment in Washington. They used false personas and social media while also staging political rallies and communicating with “unwitting individuals” associated with the Trump campaign, it said.
The Russians “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system,” according to the indictment in Washington.
The Russians also reportedly bought advertisements on U.S. social media, created numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear as if they were U.S. groups or people, according to the indictment. One fake account, @TEN_GOP account, attracted more than 100,000 online followers.
The Russians tracked the metrics of their effort in reports and budgeted for their efforts. Some, as described below, traveled to the U.S. to gather intelligence for the surreptitious campaign. They used stolen U.S. identities, including fake driver’s licenses, and contacted news media outlets to promote their activities.
The full list of named defendants in addition to the Internet Research Agency, as well as Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering, include:
- MIKHAIL IVANOVICH BYSTROV,
- MIKHAIL LEONIDOVICH BURCHIK,
- ALEKSANDRA YURYEVNA KRYLOVA,
- ANNA VLADISLAVOVNA BOGACHEVA,
- SERGEY PAVLOVICH POLOZOV,
- MARIA ANATOLYEVNA BOVDA,
- ROBERT SERGEYEVICH BOVDA,
- DZHEYKHUN NASIMI OGLY ASLANOV,
- VADIM VLADIMIROVICH PODKOPAEV,
- GLEB IGOREVICH VASILCHENKO,
- IRINA VIKTOROVNA KAVERZINA,
- VLADIMIR VENKOV
- YEVGENIY VIKTOROVICH PRIGOZHIN
Mueller’s office said that none of the defendants was in custody.
So how is Trump involved? Well, he isn’t, as it now seems that collusion narrative is dead, and instead Russian involvement was unilateral. Instead, according to the indictment, the Russian operations were unsolicited and pro bono, and included “supporting Trump… and disparaging Hillary Clinton,’ staging political rallies, buying political advertising while posing as grassroots U.S. groups. Oh, and communicating “with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”
Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton. Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities. Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.
Furthermore, the dastardly Russians created fake accounts to pretend they are Americans:
Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences. These groups and pages, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by Defendants. Defendants also used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to post on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts. Over time, these social media accounts became Defendants’ means to reach significant numbers of Americans for purposes of interfering with the U.S. political system, including the presidential election of 2016
Mueller also alleges a combination of traditional and modern espionage…
Certain Defendants traveled to the United States under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform Defendants’ operations. Defendants also procured and used computer infrastructure, based partly in the United States, to hide the Russian origin of their activities and to avoid detection by U.S. regulators and law enforcement.
Mueller also charges that two of the defendants received US visas and from approximately June 4, 2014 through June 26, 2014, KRYLOVA and BOGACHEVA “traveled in and around the United States, including stops in Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, and New York to gather intelligence, After the trip, KRYLOVA and BURCHIK exchanged an intelligence report regarding the trip.”
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The indictment points to a broader conspiracy beyond the pages of the indictment, saying the grand jury has heard about other people with whom the Russians allegedly conspired in their efforts.
Stocks are not happy.
Rosenstein is expected to hold a briefing at 1:30pm ET. Watch it live below: