Russian nationals charged in Mueller investigation

Joanna Estrada
February 18, 2018

President Trump's national security adviser said Saturday that Russian interference in the 2016 USA elections is beyond dispute, marking a sharp reversal of Trump's frequent dismissal of alleged Russian cyber-meddling as a "hoax".

A Russian Internet agency oversaw a criminal and espionage conspiracy to tamper in the 2016 US presidential campaign to support Donald Trump and disparage Hillary Clinton, said an indictment released on Friday that revealed more details than previously known about Moscow's purported effort to interfere. It also marks the first criminal charges against Russians believed to have secretly worked to influence the outcome.

Two of the firms are said to have Russian government contracts. But the earlier U.S. intelligence assessment said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the USA election.

"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. They also used their fictitious personas to communicate with Trump campaign employees and volunteers, and spread their campaign messages; post anti-Hillary messages on social media directed to minority voters, discouraging their participation in the election or to vote for Jill Stein; spread messages about voter fraud.

But the indictment does not resolve the collusion question at the heart of the continuing Mueller probe, which before Friday had produced charges against four Trump associates.

The statement by H.R. McMaster at the Munich Security Conference stood in stark contrast to Trump's oft repeated claim that Russian interference in his election victory was a hoax.

The latest indictment does not focus on the hacking but instead centers on a social media propaganda effort that began in 2014 and continued past the election, with the goal of producing distrust in the American political process.

The indictment broadly echoed the conclusions of a January 2017 USA intelligence community assessment, which found Russian Federation had meddled in the election, and that its goals eventually included aiding Mr Trump, the Republican candidate who went on to a surprise victory over Democratic Party candidate Ms Clinton in November 2016.

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III did not attend the news briefing, but the 37-page indictment provides the most detailed description from the US government of Russian interference in the election. They took special care to use a VPN in the US, so that their social media activities could not be traced back to Russian Federation.

Meanwhile, new questions mount about what his administration is doing to prevent Russian Federation from doing it again.

"This indictment serves as a reminder that people are not always who they appear to be on the internet", Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, told reporters.

The 13 Russians are not in custody and not likely to ever face trial.

The indictment said the Russians conspired "with persons known and unknown", which could include Americans. According to prosecutors, the company was funded by companies controlled by Prigozhin, the wealthy Russian who has been dubbed "Putin's chef" because his restaurants and catering businesses have hosted the Kremlin leader's dinners with foreign dignitaries. "If they want to see the devil - let them". They "see what they want to see".

He spoke shortly after an appearance at the same gathering by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who had dismissed as "just claptrap" allegations of Russian meddling found in US indictments handed down Friday.

As the 2016 election cycle ramped up, the Russian defendants allegedly created hundred of fictitious social media accounts with the look and feel of American people and groups.

Lavrov argued that US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, have said no country influenced the USA election results. "Hillary wants to sponsor it".

In remarks in August 2017, at a rally in Huntington, W.V., Trump mocked the notion of Russian meddling in the elections, calling it a "total fabrication" and an excuse by Democrats for Hillary Clinton's loss in the presidential election.

The indictment details contacts targeting three unnamed officials in the Trump campaign's Florida operation. In each instance, the Russians used false US personas to contact the officials.

There is no crime called collusion in US law, but former federal prosecutor Randall Eliason, now a professor at George Washington University Law School, said the same conduct is often covered by the offense of conspiracy.

Tweets and Facebook posts that have been made public as part of these investigations make clear that the Russian disinformation effort broadly sought to favor Trump and undermine the support for Clinton.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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