12 Russians Indicted by US Grand Jury in 2016 Election Hacking
A federal grand jury on Friday charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016, in the most detailed US accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the presidential election to help Republican Donald Trump.
The indictment, which alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy involving sophisticated hacking and staged releases of documents, raises the stakes for a summit next week between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Officers of Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, covertly monitored computers of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign and Democratic campaign committees, and stole large amounts of data, the indictment said.
“In addition to releasing documents directly to the public, the defendants transferred stolen documents to another organization, not named in the indictment, and discussed timing the release of the documents in an attempt to enhance the impact on the election,” Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told a news conference.
Friday’s indictment was secured by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into Russian involvement in the election.
Rosenstein said he briefed Trump earlier this week about the indictment. It contains no allegations that US citizens committed a crime, he said.
A few hours before the indictments were announced, Trump described the Mueller investigation as a “rigged witch hunt” that is hurting the US relationship with Russia.
The announcement of the indictment came at an awkward time for Trump, who met Britain's Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle on Friday for tea during a visit to Britain.
Trump said he would “absolutely, firmly ask” Putin about the meddling at their planned meeting in Helsinki on Monday.
Several prominent Democratic lawmakers called on Trump to cancel the summit.
“In light of this stunning indictment by the Justice Department that these Russian conspirators attacked our democracy and were communicating with Americans to interfere in our election, President Trump should immediately cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” said Sen. Jack Reed, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia and whether the president has unlawfully sought to obstruct the Russia investigation.
US intelligence agencies concluded in January, 2017 that Russia, in an effort ordered by Putin, used propaganda and hacking to meddle in the election to harm Clinton and eventually help Trump.
But the 29-page document describes several incidents in which the alleged Russian hackers, using the internet personas DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, were in contact with Americans.
The candidate and their party affiliation were not identified.
That same month, the indictment says, “the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent a reporter stolen documents pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement,” which was a sensitive political issue for the Democratic Party.
The reporter, who was not identified “responded by discussing when to release the documents and offering to write an article about their release.”
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said, “The open question is whether Americans were involved in this and will they be charged. You can certainly imagine a subsequent indictment in the future of an American of being part of this conspiracy.”
The indictment notes that on or about 27 July, 2016 the Russians attempted for the first time to break into email accounts “at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted 76 email addresses at the domain of the Clinton Campaign.”
That same day, candidate Trump told a press conference: “Russia if you are listening I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 (Clinton) emails that are missing,” referring to emails from a private server earlier used by Clinton.
The indictment documents extensive cooperation between the Russian hackers and the unnamed “Organization 1”.
That group appears to match WikiLeaks, which released large numbers of hacked Democratic Party emails during the 2016 campaign.
WikiLeaks, which was not indicted, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In June 2016, “Organization 1 sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to end any new material (stolen from the DNC) here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing,” the indictment said.
‘Russians Are Nailed’
Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said in a tweet after the indictments were unveiled:
Mueller has secured indictments against several former Trump campaign aides, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn.
In February, Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies in an elaborate conspiracy to interfere in the election. That indictment said the Russians adopted false online personas to push divisive messages, traveled to the United States to collect intelligence and staged political rallies while posing as Americans.
(This story has been published in an arrangement with Reuters)