WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Thirteen Russians and three Russian entities were charged Friday with an elaborate plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
The indictment, brought by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, alleges that Russians used bogus social media postings and advertisements fraudulently purchased in the name of Americans to sway political opinion during the race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“The defendants allegedly conducted what they called ‘information warfare against the United States,’ with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said.
Charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. Rosenstein said the indictment does not include allegations that the plot swayed the outcome of the vote.
Rosenstein said two of the defendants allegedly traveled to the U.S. in 2014 “to collect intelligence for their American influence operations.”
“In order to hide the Russian origins of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located here in the United States in order to set up a virtual private network,” he said.
Rosenstein said the defendants “allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, making it appear those accounts were controlled by persons located in the United States.”
Those accounts would post attacks on Clinton, boosting Sen. Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were also targets, CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported.
Court documents allege the Russian operatives were “instructed to use any opportunity to criticized Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them).”
According to the indictment, “some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities,” CBS News reported.
The deputy attorney general said the Russians also “recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns and stage political rallies.”
Rosenstein said that according to the indictment, the Americans did not know they were communicating with Russians and said there is no allegation that any American “was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.”
Trump responded to news of the indictments on Twitter later Friday afternoon.
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president,” he wrote. “The results of the election were not impacted. Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
Previously, four people, including Trump’s former national security advisor and former campaign chairman, were charged in Mueller’s investigation, which is ongoing.
A Clinton spokesperson and Sanders tweeted Friday the indictments essentially confirmed what they’ve known all along.
One of those indicted Friday is a businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gainer reported.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)