Indictment: Russian officers meddled in US election


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Twelve Russian military intelligence officers hacked into the Clinton presidential campaign and Democratic Party, releasing tens of thousands of stolen and politically damaging communications, in a sweeping conspiracy by the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, according to a grand jury indictment announced Friday.

The indictment stands as special counsel Robert Mueller’s first allegation implicating the Russian government directly in criminal behavior meant to sway the presidential election.

The indictment comes days before President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the indictment, saying “obviously, the purpose of this is to spoil the atmosphere” before Monday’s summit between President Vladimir Putin and President Trump in Helsinki, Finland.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have said the meddling was aimed at helping the Trump campaign and harming the election bid of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The effort also included bogus Facebook ads and social media postings that prosecutors say were aimed at influencing public opinion and sowing discord on hot-button social issues.

The indictment lays out a broad, coordinated effort starting in March 2016 to break into key Democratic email accounts, such as those belonging to the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Among those targeted was John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman.

The Kremlin denied anew that it tried to sway the election. “The Russian state has never interfered and has no intention of interfering in the U.S. elections,” Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said Friday.

But the indictment identifies the defendants as officers with Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, also known as GRU. It accuses them of covertly monitoring the computers of dozens of Democratic officials and volunteers, implanting malicious computer code known as malware and using phishing emails to gain control of the accounts of people associated with the Clinton campaign.

By June 2016, the defendants began planning the release of tens of thousands of stolen emails and documents, the indictment alleges. The messages were released through fictitious personas like DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0.

The charges come as Mueller continues to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the presidential election. The indictment does not allege that Trump campaign associates were involved in the hacking efforts or that any American was knowingly in contact with Russian intelligence officers.

The indictment also does not allege that any vote tallies were altered by hacking.

Still, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the internet “allows foreign adversaries to attack Americans in new and unexpected ways. Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide and conquer us.”

A White House statement offered no condemnation of the alleged Russian conspiracy. Instead it focused on the fact that no Trump campaign officials or Americans were implicated in the new indictment.

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