(Washington, DC) — Thirteen Russian nationals are being indicted for election-related fraud in the 2016 presidential campaign. In a Justice Department news briefing today, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the defendants waged “information warfare” in the U.S. Rosenstein stressed there is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election. But the effort was definitely there. With damaging releases aimed to tarnish Hillary Clinton’s chances.
Rosenstein said Russians violated U.S. laws to interfere with the American political process.
He noted that the Russians recruited Americans to stage rallies but said the Americans were not aware of the Moscow connection.
A Politico article by Cristiano Lima says, Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Friday unveiled an indictment against 13 Russian nationals and three foreign entities on charges relating to the 2016 election meddling.
The indictment, which includes conspiracy to defraud the United States and aggravated identity theft, depicts an elaborate web of initiatives aimed at influencing the presidential race.
Here is a look at some of the most startling findings from the Department of Justice announcement.Russians paid Trump rally-goers to simulate Clinton jailing
According to the document, the Russian nationals and their associates paid people attending pro-Donald Trump rallies in Florida to carry out numerous “tasks,” including asking one to construct a cage at an event and another to dress up as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton behind bars.
“Defendants and their co-conspirators asked one U.S. person to build a cage on a flatbed truck and another U.S. person to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform,” the indictment read.
Calls for Clinton to be jailed were persistent at Trump rallies throughout 2016, with crowds often breaking out into chants of “Lock her up!” In local reports from 2016 rallies in Florida, rally-goers can be seen staging Clinton displays with caged mannequins.
Beyond Clinton, Russians sought to denigrate Cruz, Rubio and Trump
Though federal prosecutors have made connections to the Trump campaign a central focus of their investigation into Russian election interference, the indictments unveiled on Friday revealed that the defendants sought to malign numerous 2016 presidential contenders, at times including Trump.
“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,” the charges allege.While numerous efforts appeared to be aimed at boosting Trump’s candidacy, organizers also participated in staging two anti-Trump rallies, one in New York called “Trump is NOT my President” and another in North Carolina called “Charlotte Against Trump.”
Trump maintained a contentious relationship with Clinton, Cruz and Rubio throughout the campaign, often trading taunts with them at debates and on social media.
Political ads and social media accounts targeted ‘woke blacks,’ cast Clinton as ‘Satan’
In political ads aimed at influencing the 2016 election, the defendants repeatedly targeted minority groups and sought to chip away at Clinton’s commanding electoral lead among African-Americans.
Excerpts from one campaign ad that ran toward the end of May said that “Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve the black vote.”
On social media, the defendants used an Instagram account named “Woke Blacks” to cast African-Americans who supported Clinton as misguided.
“[P]articular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary,” the post from October 2016 read. “We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils.”
The Russian nationals also used negative campaign tactics to depict Clinton as satanic and pro-terrorism.
“Donald wants to defeat terrorism,” excerpts from one campaign ad in May 2016 claimed. “Hillary wants to sponsor it.”
Another ad from October charged that “Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is.”
Election-themed hashtags included ‘#Hillary4Prison’ and ‘#TrumpTrain’
The defendants also pushed certain hashtags related to the election on social media, several of which maligned Clinton and sought to boost Trump’s candidacy.
Some of the hashtags include “#Hillary4Prison,” “#TrumpTrain” and “#IWontProtectHillary.” Accounts across Twitter continue to use the Trump Train hashtag.They also sought to establish an online presence by creating social media accounts under the names “March for Trump” on Twitter and “Trumpsters United” and “FRAUDation” on Facebook.
Russians posed as Muslim Americans and sought to drive down turnout
The defendants portrayed themselves as Muslim Americans online, urging followers to boycott the election in protest of Clinton.
In November 2016 they deployed a social media account titled “United Muslims of America” to post messages discouraging people from voting. One post alluded to Clinton’s foreign policy positions and encouraged people to skip the presidential election.
“American Muslims [are] boycotting elections today, most of the American Muslim voters refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton because she wants to continue the war on Muslims in the middle east and voted yes for invading Iraq,” the post states.
Instagram post urged voters to ‘choose peace’ and back Stein
The defendants actively sought to push for third-party candidates like Jill Stein, who ran as the Green Party nominee. They bought an Instagram ad under the user name “Blacktivist,” which supported Stein in early November, according to the indictment.
“Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein,” the ad states. “Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”Stein, who failed to muster substantial support on the campaign trail, faced criticism in 2016 for meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia the year prior.
The Senate Intelligence Committee began looking into the Stein campaign for potential “collusion with the Russians” in December.
Russians were actively targeting ‘purple states’
The defendants aimed their 2016 influence campaign not only along demographic grounds but also geographically, seeking to sway voters in key battleground states.
In an exchange with a grass-roots organizer in Texas, the indictment alleges, “Defendants and their co-conspirators learned … that they should focus their activities on ‘purple states like Colorado, Virginia Florida.’”
In their communications, the individuals frequently discussed their efforts to affect “purple states.”
Internet agency behind interference campaign carried upwards of 80 staffers
The election interference efforts outlined in Friday’s indictment were carried out by the Internet Research Agency, an organization with headquarters in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The agency’s U.S. interference operations were referred to as a “translator project” with a stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,” the indictment alleges. By July 2016, the Internet Research Agency had more than 80 people working on its translator project in departments including graphics, search engine optimization, data analysis, finance and information technology, according to Mueller’s team.
Funding for the Internet Research Agency came from the two other entities charged in Friday’s indictment, both of which Mueller’s team said have contracts with the Russian government. In addition to providing funding, a company called Concord Catering and another entity named Concord Management and Consulting LLC — together referred to by Muller as “Concord” — also recommended personnel and oversaw the Internet Research Agency’s activities. Funding for the agency was part of a larger Concord program referred to as “Project Lakhta,” which the indictment alleges targeted both foreign and domestic audiences.
Defendants fretted after FBI ‘busted’ their efforts, and sought to destroy evidence
Messages exchanged between the defendants and their associates showed that, as federal prosecutors closed in on their efforts to meddle in the election, the Russian nationals sought to cover their tracks by getting rid of evidence.
“We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke),” one defendant wrote to a family member in 2017. “So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”
After the exchange, the indictment reads, the defendants “destroyed evidence for the purpose of impeding the investigation.”
Louis Nelson contributed to this report.
The USA today reports, “There is already, in my view, ample evidence in the public domain on the issue of collusion if you’re willing to see it,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, told reporters at a newsmaker breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “If you want to blind yourself, then you can look the other way.
Schiff said there is evidence — heard by the committee behind closed doors —that he can’t talk about publicly because it remains classified. But he said there is plenty of evidence of collusion that has been reported publicly, including:
— Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about talking in April 2016 to a professor with close ties to the Kremlin who told Papadopoulos that Moscow had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The professor told him about thousands of emails the Russians had from the Clinton campaign.
— Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with a Russian attorney at Trump Tower in June 2016 after being promised “dirt” on Clinton. The campaign later communicated to meeting organizers that they were disappointed they didn’t get what they were promised.
— In July 2017, the president and White House advisers put together a misleading statement about the nature of the Trump Tower meeting, saying that it was for the purpose of discussing Russian adoptions.
— The Trump campaign knew through Papadopoulos that the Russians had obtained thousands of emails from the Clinton campaign. Then-candidate Trump publicly asked the Russians in July 2016 to hack Clinton and find her “30,000 emails that are missing” from the personal email server she used while secretary of State. WikiLeaks began posting emails from the Clinton campaign in October, just weeks before the November election.
— Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn held secret conversations with Russian officials in December 2016 during the presidential transition period, promising to undermine sanctions imposed against Russia by the Obama administration for meddling in the U.S. election. Flynn pleaded guilty late last year to lying to the FBI about those conversations.
“All of this is evidence of collusion,” said Schiff, a former federal prosecutor. “Now, I’ve never said that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s for Bob Mueller to decide. But to say there’s no evidence of collusion, you’d have to ignore all this.”
Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and possible obstruction of justice by the president.
“If this were a trial on the issue of did the Trump campaign conspire with the Russians to interfere or violate U.S. election laws by providing help to the Trump campaign, if this were a trial on that conspiracy charge…all of that evidence would come in as evidence of collusion,” Schiff said.
The House and Senate intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee are each conducting their own Russia probes.
While it is up to Mueller to conduct the criminal investigation and file any charges he feels are warranted, it is up to the House panel “to tell the country as much as we can about what we have been able to learn,” Schiff said.
Even if Mueller determines that he can’t file criminal charges of conspiracy, the committee should inform people of any “unpatriotic” or “immoral” actions, even if they weren’t illegal, Schiff said.
“It’s not fine to work with a foreign power even if there is no violation of law involved,” he said.