Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking offenses related to the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
The 12, who are members of the GRU, a Russian intelligence agency, are accused of stealing usernames and passwords of volunteers in Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including its chairman John Podesta. They also hacked into the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in an operation starting around March 2016.
The charges include conspiracy to commit an offense against the U.S., aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to launder money. They are accused of releasing the stolen emails on the web.
The announcement came only three days before President Donald Trump is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters Friday that “I briefed President Trump about these allegations earlier this week. The president is fully aware of the department’s actions.”
Rosenstein said two separate Russian units of the GRU intelligence agency stole emails and information from Democrats and then disseminated it via online personas, DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0. He also said there’s no allegation in the indictment that any American was involved in the operation.
“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 said.
With the charges, Mueller’s prosecutors have marked out another Internet pathway they say Russia used to influence the U.S. election. On Feb. 16, his prosecutors charged 13 Russians and three Russian entities they said were part of a broader effort to sow discord among U.S. voters through social media -- which they used to impersonate Americans, coordinate with unwitting U.S. activists and even plan rallies.
Trump told reporters in London Friday that he will “absolutely firmly” ask Putin about the finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that he authorized the campaign of interference. But he added, “I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee, I did it, I did it, you got me” confession.
Trump has frequently dismissed the Russia probe as a “witch hunt” and expressed his anger that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation. That put Rosenstein in charge, and he promptly appointed former FBI Director Mueller as special counsel.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Putin personally ordered a campaign to undermine “public faith in the U.S. democratic process” with the goal of hurting Clinton’s candidacy and ultimately helping to elect Trump.
Because Mueller has maintained public silence on his investigation, Rosenstein has made the few public pronouncements on the probe outside of legal documents and courtroom proceedings.
--With assistance from David S. Joachim