Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday announced that a grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for violating U.S. criminal laws in connection with the campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election in support of Donald Trump.
“The indictment charges all of the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft,” a statement from the special counsel’s office said.
The 37-page indictment lays out in extensive detail how, prosecutors say, Russia’s Internet Research Agency in 2014 initiated an effort to systematically interfere “with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
The elaborate, multi-million-dollar project involved staging on-the-ground protests in the United States, creating hundreds of social media accounts pretending to be American citizens, trying to suppress minority voter turnout, and even promoting false claims that Democrats committed voter fraud.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, announced in a Friday press conference that there was “no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this activity.”
According to the indictment, the defendants posed as Americans — and in some cases stole the identities of real U.S. citizens — to operate social media pages and hold political rallies intended to sow distrust of the U.S. political system and influence Americans’ votes. As part of the Internet Research Agency’s so-called “translator project,” the defendants used YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other online platforms to conduct what they referred to as “information warfare.”
“By early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” the indictment reads.
“They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump,” it adds later.
Starting in 2015, the defendants also spent “thousands of U.S. dollars every month,” on paid advertisements to promote social media group pages they created that were devoted to hot-button issues like immigration and Black Lives Matter, the indictment says. Their social media accounts achieved significant online followings, with Donald Trump even responding to a tweet from their account @TEN_GOP, which pretended to be the official account for the Tennessee Republican Party.
The Russians took elaborate steps to hide their fingerprints. Some visited the U.S. under false pretenses to obtain intelligence, and “procured and used computer infrastructure” that would “hide the Russian origin of their activities,” according to the indictment.
They also made use of a web of LLCs to conceal the source of their funding, which was controlled by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and ally of President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin’s companies Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering were the “primary source of funding” for interference operations, per the indictment.
Prosecutors say the Internet Research Agency’s budget requests to Concord amounted to some $1,250,000 per month as of September 2016.
The Russians also organized on-the-ground rallies to boost Trump, according to the indictment, suggesting the elaborate nature of the Russian effort to influence American voters.
The Kremlin’s operation conducted outreach to grassroots Trump campaigners in Florida over the internet in the summer and fall of 2016, saying they hoped to hold rallies for Trump across the state. On August 15, the Russian operators got an email from an unnamed Trump campaign worker identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county, suggesting two more sites for rallies. The indictment does not allege that anyone on the Trump campaign knew they were working with Russians.
According to the indictment the Russians wired an American money to build a cage for a fake Hillary Clinton for a Florida rally on August 5, which made national news; it also wired one group money for another event in Florida in September and took out advertising for a rally organized for 9/11 in New York City. The group paid the same actor—an American—who had played Clinton in the Florida rally to reprise the role on September 11.
The group also reached out to a Texan pro-Trump grassroots organization that was already advising the Russian team to focus on swing states; the American said he or she would provide social media contacts for yet more outreach. By August 24, the Russian group had a list of 100 Americans they had contacted, along with a summary of each person’s political views and what they had been asked by the Russian group to do.
As soon as Trump was elected, the Russians began working to undermine him and sow further discord, the indictment says. On Nov. 12, two groups held rallies, one to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump,” another through a group called “Trump is NOT my President.” The Kremlin organized both of them.
This elaborate conspiracy was made possible in part by the theft of the social security numbers, home addresses, and birth dates of real U.S. persons, which allowed the defendants to open U.S. bank and PayPal accounts.
Once the defendants got wind that U.S. investigators were on to them, they began destroying evidence, including emails and social media accounts, according to the indictment.
In one Sept. 2017 email cited by prosecutors, defendant Irina Kaverzina wrote to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”
Kaverzina added: “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”
Read the full indictment below:
This post has been updated.