Shortly after Special counsel Robert Mueller released the indictments of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for alleged interference in the United States political system and the 2016 presidential election, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein held a brief press conference to explain the charges. The following is a summary of his statements:
- The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies with eight criminal counts: (1) a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States, by impairing the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, the United States Department of Justice, and the Department of State. (2) conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and (3-8). Counts three through eight charge aggravated identity theft.
- Rosenstein stated that the conspirators “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.”
- A Russian company, based in St. Peterburg called Internet Research Agency LLC was used for this activity. The conspiracy was funded through companies known as Concord Management and Consultants LLC, Concord Catering, and many affiliates and subsidiaries and part of a larger operation called Project Lacta. Internet Research Agency “employed hundreds of people in its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support personnel” and had “an annual budget of millions of dollars.”
- These activities began in 2014 with significant efforts made to hide their true identity. In order to hide the Russian origins of their activities, they allegedly:
- purchased space on computer servers located here in the United States to set up a virtual private network;
- established hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, making it appear that those accounts were controlled by persons located in the United States; and
- used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents.
- Posing as politically and socially active Americans advocating for and against particular candidates, this group:
- communicated with unwitting Americans;
- purchased political advertisements on social media networks; and
- recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities for political campaigns and stage political rallies.
- After the election, the defendants allegedly staged rallies to support the president-elect, while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election. For example, the defendants organized one rally to support the president-elect and another rally to oppose him, both in New York on the same day.
- There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.
- There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.
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