WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for conspiring to hack the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and other email accounts in an effort to interfere with the 2016 election.
The indictments come just days before President Donald Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictments at a press conference, which took place just after Trump and his wife, Melania, arrived at Windsor Castle for a ceremony with Queen Elizabeth as part of the president’s European visit.
was of senior officers who worked in two units of Russian military intelligence. They allegedly covertly monitored computers, implanted malicious computer code, and stole emails and other documents. It claims that they created fictitious online personas, including “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0,” and used them to release the documents starting in June 2016. The hacking was of the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, including its chairman, John Podesta, by means that included “spear phishing” and malware.
One of the Russian units worked to steal information, and another was designed to disseminate the information, Rosenstein said.
In addition to releasing to documents to the public, the defendants also transferred the documents to another organization. Although the name of that organization was not named in the indictment, it is widely believed to be WikiLeaks.
Rosenstein said that while the defendants corresponded with several Americans through the internet, there was “no allegation in the indictment that the Americans knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers.” He said Mueller’s investigation continues.
The indictment, however, does disclose that there was communication between Guccifer 2.0 and a person who was in regular contact with senior members of Trump’s campaign. It identified an instance on Aug. 15, 2016, when Guccifer 2.0 wrote to that person and said, “thank u for writing back…did u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?” On Aug. 17, Guccifer 2.0 wrote, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow…it would be a great pleasure to me.” On Sept. 9, Guccifer 2.0 referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person wrote back, “[p]retty standard.”
Rosenstein also said Russian military officers hacked a state election board and stole the information of about 500,000 voters. Rosenstein added that he briefed Trump on plans for the indictment earlier this week. The president continued to characterize Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.”
He also issued a warning about speculating about the federal investigation. “We do not try cases on television or in congressional hearings,” he said. “Most anonymous leaks are not from the government officials who actually conduct investigations.”
He added, “When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats, and instead think patriotically as Americans. Our response must not depend on who was victimized.”
The indictment describes in great detail how the Russians allegedly hacked into the computers and later set up the DCLeaks accounts to promote it, as well as the online persona Guccifer 2.0. That included creating fictitious personas that tried to make it seem as if DCLeaks came from American hackers and that Guccifer was Romanian.
It also identifies an instance, in August 2016, when an unidentified candidate for Congress requested information from Guccifer 2.0 on an opponent. The defendants responded by sending the stolen documents that were related to the candidate’s opponent, according to the filing.
The indictment also describes an instance in August of that year when Guccifer 2.0 sent DCCC stolen data to a register state lobbyist and online source of political news, and another incident when documents on Black Lives Matter were sent to a reporter. “The reporter responded by discussing when to release the documents and offering to write an article about their release.”