Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly interferring in the 2016 US presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States, the Department of Justice announced on February 16, 2018.
In addition, three defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said:
“This indictment serves as a reminder that people are not always who they appear to be on the Internet.”
“The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed. The Department of Justice will continue to work cooperatively with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and with the Congress, to defend our nation against similar current and future schemes. I want to thank the federal agents and prosecutors working on this case for their exceptional service.”
Twelve of the individual defendants worked at various times for Internet Research Agency LLC. The other individual defendant, Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, funded the conspiracy through companies known as Concord Management and Consulting LLC, Concord Catering, and many subsidiaries and affiliates.
The conspiracy was part of a larger operation called “Project Lakhta.” Project Lakhta included multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in multiple countries.
Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of persons for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support, with an annual budget of millions of dollars. Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged in departments, including graphics, search-engine optimization, information technology, and finance departments. In 2014, the agency established a “translator project” to focus on the U.S. population. In July 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project.
Two of the defendants allegedly traveled to the United States in 2014 to collect intelligence for their American political influence operations.
To hide the Russian origin of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located within the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, making it appear that the accounts were controlled by persons within the United States. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular political candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media.
The indictment includes eight criminal counts:
Count One alleges a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States, by all of the defendants. The defendants allegedly conspired to defraud the United States by impairing the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of State in administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.
Count Two charges conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud by Internet Research Agency and two individual defendants.
Counts Three through Eight charge aggravated identity theft by Internet Research Agency and four individuals.
There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.
House Speaker Paul Ryan released a statement:
“We have known that Russians meddled in the election, but these indictments detail the extent of the subterfuge. These Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system. It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself. Today’s announcement underscores why we need to follow the facts and work to protect the integrity of future elections.”
Donald Trump’s reaction was as follows:
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
The Special Counsel’s indictment states no conclusion on issue of collusion or electoral impact of Russian interference on the election.