Russian meddling in the US election in 2016 was not a ruse after all. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies, with a conspiracy to to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to support Donald Trump and disparage Hillary Clinton.
A Russian Internet agency oversaw the criminal and espionage conspiracy, said the indictment released on Friday.
The indictment revealed more details than previously known about Moscow’s purported effort to interfere in the election.
The court document said those accused “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
The indictment said 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. In one case, it said, the Russians paid an unidentified person to build a cage aboard a flatbed truck and another to wear a costume “portraying Clinton in a prison uniform.”
The surprise 37-page indictment could alter the divisive U.S. domestic debate over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, undercutting some Republicans who, along with Trump, have attacked Mueller’s probe.
“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,” said Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The indictment is silent on the question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin, which Mueller is investigating.
In a Tweet on Friday, Trump said: “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!”
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s work, told reporters in announcing the charges that the investigation was not finished. The special counsel’s office last year charged four other people.
The indictment broadly echoes the conclusions of a January 2017 U.S. intelligence assessment, which found that Russia had meddled in the election, and that its goals eventually included aiding Trump. In November 2016, Trump won a surprise victory over Democratic Party candidate Clinton.
Mueller’s indictment did not tie the meddling effort to the Russian government. But the earlier U.S. intelligence assessment said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the U.S. election.