Russian nationals tried to suppress minority turnout in the 2016 election and spread false claims about voter fraud in an effort to harm Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and help Donald Trump, according to an indictment announced today by the Justice Department.
The charges by the office of Robert Mueller described a conspiracy that started in 2014 to disrupt the USA election by people who adopted false online personas to push divisive messages; travelled to the United States to collect intelligence; and staged political rallies while posing as Americans.
Some defendants also traveled to America to collect intelligence and to reach a significant "number of Americans for purposes of interfering with the US political system, including the presidential election of 2016", Mueller's office charged.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says the indictment does not include allegations that the plot swayed the outcome of the vote.
A sophisticated campaign by Russian actors seeking to manipulate the 2016 USA presidential election through social media included stealing the identities of Americans and using accounts at PayPal to aid their effort. AG Rosenstein became a leader in the investigation after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself as a member of President Donald Trump's administration.
Around April 2016 through November 2016, the indictment alleges that the IRA and its groups bought advertisements on social media using their false identities "expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton".
Trump has never unequivocally accepted the intelligence agencies' report, and has denounced Mueller's probe into whether his campaign colluded with the Kremlin as a "witch hunt".
"Defendants and their co-conspirators used false USA personas to organize and coordinate US political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false USA personas to organize and coordinate USA political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 US presidential election", officials said on Friday.
Some of those charged, posing as Americans, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the indictment said. Twitter, PayPal, Google's YouTube, and Facebook and subsidiary Instagram were among technology tools used by a Russian network of about 80 employees, the indictment said. Flynn, who is represented by Covington & Burling partner Robert Kelner, is cooperating with the Mueller investigation. We must not allow them to succeed.
The indictment appeared likely to provide ammunition to Democrats and others arguing for a continued aggressive probe of the matter.
The Internet Research Agency was named in the indictment, which officials plan to announce at Justice Department headquarters Friday afternoon. It is not evident from the Friday indictment whether newly charged Russian operatives were responsible for inserting a malicious program into the Illinois State Board of Elections' database in June, 2016-or whether that was a separate scheme.
It reveals a deeper level of sophistication and planning than previously known behind Moscow's purported attempts to interfere.
At the press conference on Friday, Rosenstein was adamant the indictment included zero allegations of any American as a knowing participant in the illegal activity, quickly squashing questions about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian conspirators. Hillary wants to sponsor it, ' read one.
It was also funded by companies he controlled, according to the indictment.
According to the indictment, the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm, started interfering as early as 2014 in USA politics, extending to the 2016 presidential election.
The organization employed hundreds of people, ranging from creators of fictitious person to technical experts, and by September 2016, its budget was in excess of $1.2 million, the court document said.