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Old 02-16-2018, 12:53 PM   #1
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Mueller Indicts 13 Russians, alleging 2016 election interference

LA Times: Special counsel Robert Mueller indicts 13 Russians, alleging 2016 election interference

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III announced charges against 13 Russians and three Russian companies Friday, accusing them of using stolen identities, fake campaign events and hundreds of social media accounts while spending millions of rubles to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in a secret effort to aid the Trump campaign.

The 37-page indictment, the first charges by Mueller's office accusing Moscow of illegal meddling in the election, says the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm known for using troll accounts to post on news sites, orchestrated the interference campaign and that its operatives tried to communicate with at least three unnamed Trump campaign officials using fake identities.

"By early to mid-2016, Defendants' operation included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump…and disparaging Hillary Clinton," according to the indictment.

Although the indictment alleges that the Russians contacted unnamed people in the Trump campaign, it does not allege that any high-level Trump campaign officials cooperated with the effort.

"There is no allegation that any American was a willing participant" in the Russian plan, and there is no allegation that it altered the outcome of the election, Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod J. Rosenstein said in a brief news conference discussing the indictment.

Nonetheless, the indictment seriously undermines President Trump's repeated contention that the entire Russia investigation is a "hoax" or "witch hunt." It details specific activities the Russians took, initially focused mostly on creating general discord in the U.S., but eventually focused specifically on boosting Trump's campaign.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump had been briefed on the indictment but made no other immediate comment.

The indictment accuses the 13 Russians and three businesses of "impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016."

One of those charged was Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a wealthy Russian businessman and caterer who has been publicly identified as a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A company controlled by Prigozhin called Concord Management and Consulting funded and directed the interference campaign in the U.S. and other countries, employing the Internet Research Agency, a shadowy internet troll factory that operated from St. Petersburg in Russia, according to the indictment, which refers to the agency as "the organization."

"Concord was the organization's primary source of funding for its interference operations," the indictment reads. "Concord controlled funding, recommended personnel and oversaw organization activities."

In 2014, the organization created a special department focused on using You Tube, Facebook and other social media platforms to influence the U.S. presidential election. The group had a "strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system," according to the indictment, apparently quoting internal Russian documents.

The Russian operations included "supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump" and "disparaging Hillary Clinton," the indictment says.

More than 80 employees were assigned to the project and by 2016, its monthly budget exceeded $1.2 million a month, the charging documents say.

The Russians created fake social media accounts, posing as Americans and in some cases using stolen identities of real Americans, to post messages about divisive issues, such as guns immigrations and on social media accounts.

"The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the U.S. with the stated goal of spreading distrust toward the candidates and the political system in general," Rosenstein said. "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 attempts to sow division continued after the election, Rosenstein pointed out, as the Russians staged rallies in New York to support and oppose Trump on the same day.

He said U.S. justice officials have not yet communicated with the Russian government about extraditing the accused men to the U.S.
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