Coming just days before President Donald Trump will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at a summit meeting in Finland, a federal grand jury has indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for the the alleged hack of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election. In a press conference on Friday Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said,  “The internet allows foreign adversaries to attack America in new and unexpected ways.” He added, “Free and fair elections are always hard-fought and contentious. There will always be adversaries who seek to exacerbate our divisions and try to confuse, divide, and conquer us.”

On Friday, President Trump met with Queen Elizabeth II in England. He held a joint press conference with Prime Minister Theresa May on the same day. Rosenstein said he briefed the president.

Rosenstein was asked during the Friday press conference about the near coincidence of the indictment with Trump’s summit with Putin. “It’s a function of the collection of facts, evidence of law and determination sufficient to present the indictment at this time,” he said. Rosenstein said he would not say how Trump responded to the news. “I’ll let the president speak for himself,” Rosenstein said. “It’s important for the president to know what information we’ve uncovered because he needs to make important decisions for the country. He needs to understand what evidence we have of foreign interference.”

The indictments came as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime," Rosenstein said. "There is no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result.” Mueller’s team investigated Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on charges unrelated to alleged Russian election interference. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation.

All 12 of the indicted Russians are employed by Russia’s intelligence agency, the GRU, which is the successor of the infamous KGB. The hacked emails were made public during the campaign under the names “Guccifer 2.0” and DCLeaks, as well as another entity, read the indictment. Rosenstein said, “The special counsel's investigation is ongoing.”

According to the indictment, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were hacked by the electronic campaign. Questions have arisen as to whether the hack was conducted remotely, or if an unknown party at the DNC downloaded the material to be given to the hackers. John Podesta,  Clinton’s campaign chairman, was among those whose emails were hacked.

Rosenstein did not identify the political affiliations of the hacked parties during his press conference, but said he believes it is important to consider the evidence “patriotically” and not politically in the face of such foreign threats.

The White House released a statement on Friday about the indictment:

"As Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein said today:

"There is no allegation in this indictment that Americans knew that they were corresponding with Russians.
There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime.
There is no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result."

"Today's charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) released a statement in the wake of the indictment that blasted President Trump. “I’m pleased that the Justice Department is following the facts wherever they may lead, despite Donald Trump’s dangerous distortions and his refusal to acknowledge the conclusions reached by the American intelligence community,” she said. She is a former DNC chair, who stepped down in 2016.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said "The stakes for the upcoming Trump-Putin meeting could not be higher." She added, "President Trump must demand and secure a real, concrete and comprehensive agreement that the Russians will cease their ongoing attacks on our democracy. Failure to stand up to Putin would constitute a profound betrayal of the Constitution and our democracy."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on the president to call off the summit with Putin.

Former Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Friday, " I think at the heart of all this is that crimes were committed against individual Americans, including myself, but also that crimes were committed against the American democracy.” He asserted that President Trump is somehow involved. “And I think that Donald Trump likes to describe this as a witch hunt—well we just found some witches, and they were indicted.”

“This is something people knew had happened all along, that underlying all of this, crimes were committed and that’s why the Mueller investigation has been so important and why it needs to be continued in an unfettered manner,” he continued.

On page 15 of the indictment, the Department of Justice revealed that an unidentified Congressional candidate requested and received information from Guccifer 2.0 on his or her opponent. The political affiliation of the candidate was not revealed in the indictment documents.

The indictment reads:

"Between in or around June 2016 and October 2016, the Conspirators used Guccifer 2.0 to release documents through WordPress that they had stolen from the DCCC and DNC. The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also shared stolen documents with certain individuals.

a. 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 Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate's opponent."

Moreover, the indictment charges:

“The conspirators corresponded with several Americans through the internet. There is no allegation in the indictment that the Americans knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers. 

“In a second, related conspiracy, Russian GRU officers hacked the website of a state election board and stole information about 500,000 voters. They also hacked into computers of a company that supplied software used to verify voter registration information; targeted state and local offices responsible for administering the elections; and sent spearphishing emails to people involved in administering elections, with malware attached.

“The indictment includes eleven criminal charges and a forfeiture allegation.

“Count One charges eleven defendants for conspiring to access computers without authorization, and to cause damage to those computers, in connection with efforts to steal documents and release them in order to interfere with the election.

“Counts Two through Nine charge eleven defendants with aggravated identity theft by employing the usernames and passwords of other persons to commit computer fraud.

“Count Ten charges the eleven conspirators with money laundering by transferring cryptocurrencies through a web of transactions in order to purchase computer servers, register domains, and make other payments in furtherance of their hacking activities, while trying to conceal their identities and their links to the Russian government.

“Count Eleven charges two defendants for a separate conspiracy to access computers without authorization, and to cause damage to those computers, in connection with efforts to infiltrate computers used to conduct elections.”
 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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