Code: 594509 A

A Russian propaganda arm oversaw a criminal and espionage conspiracy to tamper in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to support Donald Trump and disparage Hillary Clinton, said an indictment released on Friday that revealed more details than previously known about Moscow’s purported effort to interfere.

The office of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies, including St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency known for its trolling on social media. The official who oversees Mueller’s work said the investigation was not finished.

The court document said those accused “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The indictment said Russians adopted false online personas to push divisive messages; traveled to the United States to collect intelligence, visiting 10 states; and staged political rallies while posing as Americans. In one case, it said, the Russians paid an unidentified person to build a cage aboard a flatbed truck and another to wear a costume “portraying Clinton in a prison uniform.”

The surprise 37-page indictment could alter the divisive U.S. domestic debate over Russia’s meddling, undercutting some Republicans who, along with Trump, have attacked Mueller’s investigation.

“These Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system. It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself,” said Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The indictment is silent on the question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin, which Mueller is investigating.

In a tweet on Friday, Trump gave his most direct acknowledgement that Russia had meddled in the election, which he has frequently disputed.

“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!” Trump wrote.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denounced the allegations as “absurd” and ridiculed the notion that so few Russian nationals could undermine U.S. democracy.

“13 against the billions’ budgets of the secret services?” she asked in a Facebook post.

The accused Russians are unlikely to be arrested or to appear in a U.S. court on the charges, which include conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud, bank fraud and identity theft. There is no extradition treaty between the United States and Russia.

 

ECHOES OF INTELLIGENCE REPORT

The indictment broadly echoes the conclusions of a January 2017 U.S. intelligence assessment, which found that Russia had meddled in the election, and that its goals eventually included aiding Trump. In November 2016, Trump won a surprise victory over Democratic Party candidate Clinton.

Mueller’s indictment did not tie the meddling effort to the Russian government. But the earlier U.S. intelligence assessment said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the U.S. election.

Trump has never unequivocally accepted the U.S. intelligence report and has denounced Mueller’s probe as a “witch hunt.”

Some of those charged, posing as Americans, “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign,” the indictment said.

Last year, Mueller charged Trump’s former campaign manager and his deputy with money-laundering and other crimes, and accepted guilty pleas from two former foreign policy aides for lying to the FBI.

Friday’s indictment of the Russians, coupled with the FBI disclosure that it failed to heed a warning about the Florida high school shooter, were blows to the White House, still reeling from the fallout of a scandal involving a former aide accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives.

U.S. stocks had been up over half a percent but lost nearly all those gains after the indictment came out.

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Donald Trump U.S. presidential campaign
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