A dozen Russian intelligence officers were charged Friday with conspiring to hack Democrats in 2016 to disrupt the presidential election, according to allegations laid out in an indictment filed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The 12 were members of a Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU and are accused of engaging in a sustained effort to hack the computer networks of Democratic organizations and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced the charges at a midday news conference. Mueller, as has been his practice, did not attend the announcement. Court records show that a grand jury Mueller has been using returned an indictment Friday morning.
The suspects “covertly monitored the computers, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code, and stole emails and other documents,” Rosenstein said. “The goal of the conspirators was to have an impact on the election. What impact they may have had . . . is a matter of speculation; that’s not our responsibility.”
The indictment comes days before President Trump is due to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland. Rosenstein said he briefed Trump earlier this week on the charges.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said on Twitter that the indictments “are good news for all Americans. The Russians are nailed. No Americans are involved.” He then called on Mueller “to end this pursuit of the president and say President Trump is completely innocent.”
The 11-count, 29-page indictment describes in granular detail a carefully planned and executed attack on the information security of Democrats, as Russian government hackers implanted hundreds of malware files on Democrats’ computer systems to steal information. The hackers then laundered the pilfered material through fake personas called DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0, as well as others, to try to influence voters.
One of their conduits, identified in the indictment only as “Organization 1,” was WikiLeaks, the global anti-secrecy group led by Julian Assange, according to people familiar with the case. The indictment describes WikiLeaks communicating with Guccifer 2.0 to obtain material. On July 6, according to the indictment, WikiLeaks wrote, “if you have anything Hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after,” referring to Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). WikiLeaks explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”
The indictment offers troubling new accusations about the extent of Russian hacking efforts and interactions with Americans.
“On or about August 15, 2016, the conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress,” the indictment states. “The conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.” The indictment does not identify the candidate.
The indictment also describes an online conversation between the GRU, posing as Guccifer 2.0, and a “person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign.” People familiar with the case said that person is longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. In August 2016, the hacker persona wrote to Stone: “please tell me if i can help u anyhow… it would be a great pleasure to me.”
Stone’s lawyer Grant Smith said “it is clear from the indictment issued today that our client, Roger Stone, was not in any way involved with any of the alleged hacking of the 2016 election. As he testified before the House Intelligence Committee under oath, his 24-word exchange with someone on Twitter claiming to be Guccifer 2.0 is benign, based on its content, context and timing. This exchange is now entirely public and provides no evidence of collaboration or collusion with Guccifer 2.0 or anyone else in the alleged hacking of the DNC emails. Roger received no information from Guccifer 2.0 or DCLeaks, nor did he provide any counsel to them.”
The indictment also notes an interesting development on July 27, 2016 — the day then-candidate Trump gave a press conference declaring his hope that missing Clinton emails would be found and made public, saying: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
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