Robert Mueller indicts 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking US Democrats in 2016 presidential election
The indictments were announced as part of the ongoing special counsel investigation into potential coordination between Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russia
Twelve Russian intelligence officers were indicted on charges of hacking into Democratic email accounts during the 2016 US presidential election, stealing data on 500,000 US voters, and releasing stolen information in the months before Americans headed to the polls, the Justice Department said on Friday.
The indictment – which comes days before US President Donald Trump holds a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin – was the clearest allegation yet of Russian efforts to meddle in American politics. US intelligence agencies have said the interference was aimed at helping the presidential campaign of Republican Donald Trump and harming the election bid of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The indictment lays out a sweeping and coordinated effort to break into key Democratic email accounts, including those belonging to the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The charges come as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the presidential election. The indictment does not allege that Trump campaign associates were involved in the hacking efforts or that any American was knowingly in contact with Russian intelligence officers.
The indictment also does not allege that any vote tallies were altered by hacking.
Still, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the internet “allows foreign adversaries to attack Americans in new and unexpected ways. Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide and conquer us.”
Before Friday, 20 people and three companies had been charged in the Mueller investigation, including four former Trump campaign and White House aides, three of whom have pleaded guilty to different crimes and agreed to cooperate
Also charged were 13 Russians accused of taking part in a hidden but powerful social media campaign to sway American public opinion in the 2016 election.
Hours before the Justice Department announcement, Trump complained anew that the special counsel’s investigation is complicating his efforts to forge a better working relationship with Russia. Trump and Putin are scheduled to hold talks Monday in Finland, a meeting largely sought by Trump.
Trump said at a news conference Friday near London with British Prime Minister Theresa May that he wasn’t going into the meeting with Putin with “high expectations”.
“We do have a – a political problem where – you know in the United States we have this stupidity going on. Pure stupidity,” he said, referring to Mueller’s investigation.
“But it makes it very hard to do something with Russia. Anything you do, it’s always going to be, ‘Oh, Russia, he loves Russia.’”
“I love the United States,” Trump continued. “But I love getting along with Russia and China and other countries.”
Key Dates in the Mueller investigation
May 17: Mueller, 73, is named to take over a year-old investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.
His appointment comes eight days after Trump, frustrated by the Russia investigation, fired FBI director James Comey. Mueller’s broad mandate says he can pursue “any matters” arising from the investigation.
Trump reacts angrily, saying: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
June 14: The Washington Post reports that, in addition to Russia ties, Mueller is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice. Trump reportedly pushes to fire Mueller, but is dissuaded by White House counsel Donald McGahn.
July 8: The New York Times reveals the investigation is focusing on a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer ostensibly peddling damaging material on Trump rival Hillary Clinton. In attendance were campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jnr, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
July 26: FBI agents raid the Virginia home of Manafort, carting away documents and electronics.
July 27: George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy adviser who communicated with Russian officials, is arrested on charges of lying to the FBI in a January 2017 interview.
October 30: Manafort and deputy campaign manager Rick Gates are charged with 12 counts of conspiracy to launder money, lying to investigators and other charges, related to their work in Ukraine for a pro-Russian politician years before the election effort.
Separately, on the same day, Papadopoulos agrees to plead guilty to a single count of lying in exchange for cooperating with Mueller. An indictment reveals that Papadopoulos had extensive contacts in London with Russians and sought to arrange meetings between the two sides.
December 1: Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn is indicted and pleads guilty to lying to investigators. Flynn had faced much more serious charges, but also pledged to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.
February 16: Mueller indicts 13 Russians, including a top Putin ally, tied to the Saint Petersburg-based internet Research Agency, which US officials say conducted an online campaign of disinformation to influence voters in the 2016 election.
February 20: Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer with Russia ties who did work in 2012 for Manafort and Gates, pleads guilty to lying to FBI investigators, and agrees to cooperate. Two weeks later, he is sentenced to 30 days in jail and a US$20,000 fine.
February 22: Manafort and Gates are hit with 32 more charges, including bank fraud. In a plea deal a day later, Gates accepts two charges of conspiracy and lying to investigators. Manafort continues to fight.
April 9: In New York, FBI agents raid the residence and offices of long-time Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, based on a “referral” from Mueller. Prosecutors are apparently interested in payments Cohen made to porn actress Stormy Daniels on Trump’s behalf, and other business dealings related to Trump.
April 19: Trump brings former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani onto his legal team after months of turmoil over strategy and several key departures. Giuliani says they are discussing whether Trump will be interviewed by Mueller, but adds that Trump could refuse.
May 17: On the first anniversary of the Mueller investigation, Trump tweets: “Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History … and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction.”
June 8: Mueller hits Manafort with new obstruction of justice charges, additionally charging for the first time Manafort’s Russian fixer Konstantin Kilimnik – a former army-trained linguist with alleged ties to Russian intelligence. Both are accused of witness tampering.
July 13: Twelve Russian intelligence officers are indicted by a grand jury for hacking Democratic Party emails ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, just three days before President Trump is slated to meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“Key dates” reporting by Agence France-Presse