The Justice Department indicted 13 Russians and three companies on Friday in a sprawling indictment that revealed a sophisticated network established to topple the 2016 election and to support the Trump campaign. It stretched from an office in St. Petersburg, Russia, into the social feeds of Americans and ultimately reached the streets of election battleground states, The New York Times informs.
The Russians stole the identities of American citizens, posed as political activists and used the flash points of immigration, religion and race to manipulate a campaign in which those issues were already particularly divisive, prosecutors said.
Some of the Russians were also in contact with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign,” according to court papers. Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel leading the investigation, made no accusation that President Trump or his associates were knowingly part of the conspiracy.
“The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry, said in a brief news conference. “We must not allow them to succeed.”
The 37-page indictment — handed up by a federal grand jury in Washington — amounted to a detailed rebuttal of Trump, who has sowed doubts that Russia interfered in the election and dismissed questions about its meddling as “fake news.”
The Justice Department said Mueller’s work was not complete. The indictment does not address the hacking of Democratic email systems or whether Trump tried to obstruct the F.B.I. investigation into Russian interference. Mr. Mueller is negotiating with the president’s lawyers over the terms of a possible interview.
The Russian operation began four years ago, well before Trump entered the presidential race, a fact that he quickly seized on in his defense. “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” he wrote on Twitter. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”