Charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft
Special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian organizations for allegedly interfering in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections with the intention of promoting President Donald Trump’s candidacy by posting as American activists, creating Facebook groups and organizing fake rallies.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a press conference Friday that the Russians “allegedly conducted what they called ‘information warfare’ against the United States,” with the goal of “spreading distrust against candidates and the political system in general.”
Charges listed in the 37-page indictment include conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, and they are the most direct allegation to date of illegal Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Rosenstein said his team has not had communication with Russia about the indictments and would go through normal channels for the extradition of those indicted. However, the U.S. government has no extradition treaty with Russia. In the past, Russia has not cooperated with these requests.
The president has been briefed on the indictment, the White House said. The Russian government called the accusations absurd. Mueller’s office said that none of the defendants was in custody.
Beyond the 13 people indicted, Mueller announced the Feb. 12 guilty plea of a California man for identity theft, Richard Pinedo, who is cooperating with prosecutors. The indictment of Russian individuals and companies also suggests a broader conspiracy than Mueller charged, saying grand jurors heard about others involved in the scheme.
Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics adviser in the George W. Bush administration, said the lack of any evidence of collusion in the indictment wasn’t the final word by prosecutors.
“They’re charging what they know,” he said. “The contact with the Trump campaign might be unwitting in this case, but that doesn’t mean that the collaboration issue is finished.”