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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence operatives by investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller in a surprise press conference Friday.
The charges center around allegations that Russian spies penetrated the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign accounts.
Speaking in a press conference in Washington, Rosenstein described a wide-ranging cyber campaign that involved stealing files and releasing them in an attempt to impact the 2016 presidential election, using a network of computers around the world paid for through cryptocurrencies.
The hackers targeted state and local officials responsible for administering elections, Rosenstein said, in a multipronged effort run directly by Russia’s primary military intelligence agency, the GRU.
The indictment contains no allegation that any American committed a crime, however, or that the activity changed the result of the election, Rosenstein said.
Friday’s indictment is the latest for Mueller’s ever-widening probe, which has ensnared some of Trump’s closest advisers, including his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The latter is in jail preparing to go to trial July 25 in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Starting in at least March 2016, the conspirators used a variety of means to hack the email accounts of volunteers and employees of the U.S. presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton,” the indictment says, “including the email account of the Clinton campaign’s chairman.”
Then, beginning in roughly June 2016, the operatives staged the release of tens of thousands of stolen emails and documents using fictitious online personas, which the indictment identified as “Guccifer 2.0” and “DCLeaks.” The interference campaign continued through the time of the election in November, according to the document.
“The object of the conspiracy was to hack into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the indictment says.
The new charges are the second round aimed at Russian nationals, following an indictment released in February against 13 people behind the shadowy Saint Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency. The most high-profile Russian citizen charged so far by Mueller’s team is Yevgeny Prigozhin, the catering tycoon seen as so close to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he’s earned the nickname “Putin’s cook.”
Prigozhin has brushed aside the allegations, and said that U.S. sanctions against him simply mean he’ll “stop going to McDonald’s.”
The new charges come just days before President Trump is set to hold his first official summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, on Monday, raising the pressure on Trump to confront Putin over incessant allegations that Russia meddled in the campaign.
Cover image: U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein delivers the keynote speech during the Central High School annual alumni dinner, in Philadelphia, June 5, 2018. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)