Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE has indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Deputy Attorney General announced the long-awaited indictment Friday at a press conference in Washington, D.C.
“The indictment charges 12 Russian military officers by name for conspiring to interfere with the 2016 presidential election,” Rosenstein said.
All 12 of the defendants are members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Eleven are charged with conspiring to hack into networks used by the DNC as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
The twelfth individual is charged with conspiring to hack into systems used to administer elections – including hacking into a website of a state elections board and sending spear-phishing emails to state elections officials.
Rosenstein said that the Justice Department intends to transfer this specific case to the department’s national security division from the special counsel’s office – meaning that the case will remain open even if Mueller’s investigation is shut down.
The successful apprehension of the Russians is highly unlikely, given that they are out of reach of U.S. law enforcement in Moscow.
The indictment was returned by a grand jury in the District of Columbia on Friday.
Reports began to emerge in late 2017 that U.S. prosecutors were eyeing charges against Russians in the DNC hack. The Wall Street Journal reported last November that the Justice Department had identified six Russian government officials implicated in the hack and were considering whether to indict them.
The unclassified U.S. intelligence community assessment released last January blamed Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, for breaching the DNC email accounts of Democratic party officials.
The intelligence community believes the Russian efforts were intended to help elect , a conclusion the Senate Intelligence Committee said earlier this month it saw no reason to dispute.
Trump has dismissed that conclusion as a “fake news” excuse for Democrats for losing the election, and on Friday the White House released a statement saying the latest indictment confirms its longstanding stance that there was “no collusion” between the Russians and Trump’s campaign.
“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,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.
The hacking operation targeting Democratic officials, which began in March of 2016, was allegedly carried out by two Russian intelligence units, one devoted to conducting cyber operations, and another to leaking hacked information.
The indictment alleges that the Russians created the online personas DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, which then leaked the hacked information.
“Both were created and controlled by the Russian GRU,” Rosenstein said.
The indictment also alleges that the Russians used an organization as a “passthrough” to release documents – though that organization is not identified.
During the lead up to the election, WikiLeaks released hacked emails from the DNC and campaign chair John Podesta.
The indictment lays out 11 criminal allegations and one forfeiture allegation. The Russians face a myriad of charges related to computer hacking, identity theft and money laundering.
The announcement Friday followed much the same form as the one five months ago in which Rosenstein revealed that Mueller had indicted on fraud charges 13 Russians who allegedly engaged in an elaborate plot to interfere in the presidential election.
Friday’s indictment was unsealed a mere two days before Trump is poised to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin face-to-face in Helsinki. Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in the election.
Rosenstein said he had briefed Trump on the allegations “earlier this week.”
“The president is fully aware of today’s actions by the department,” he said.
Rosenstein, whose role overseeing the Russia probe has earned him personal attacks from Trump, said it is “important for the president to know what information was uncovered because he has to make very important decisions for the country.”
“He needs to know what evidence there is of foreign election interference,” Rosenstein said of Trump.
The president has pledged to bring up the Kremlin’s election meddling while meeting in Helsinki, saying Friday he will “absolutely firmly ask the question,” but Putin denied Russia’s role during their first face-to-face last year.
In one of the more intriguing nuggets contained in the highly detailed indictment, Mueller revealed that an unnamed candidate for Congress asked the Russian conspirators posing as Guccifer 2.0 to give him or her documents stolen from the DNC and the DCCC.
Guccifer 2.0 responded to the request and provided the candidate with documents related to his or her opponent, the indictment says.
The indictment provided no details about the identity of the candidate. The request was granted in mid-August of 2016, during the general election and not primary season.
Prosecutors allege that the Russian tried to conceal their links to Moscow by using computer networks around the world, paid for in cryptocurrency, a hard-to-trace form of digital currency. While the individuals communicated with Americans in this effort, the latest indictment makes no allegation that Americans knowingly engaged with Russian intelligence officers.
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizens committed a crime,” Rosenstein said.
In a related conspiracy, the Russians allegedly hacked into a state electoral board website – an apparent reference to the successful hack of Illinois’s online voter database. The hackers also launched a cyberattack against a vendor of voting equipment and sent phishing emails to individuals involved in administering elections.
The Department of Homeland Security has said that Russia-linked hackers targeted election systems in 21 states before the election. None were involved in actual vote counting, and Rosenstein emphasized that there is no allegation any votes were changed.
Including these latest charges, the special counsel has now charged 32 people in his sprawling probe into 2016 election meddling. Five of them – including three Trump associates – have pleaded guilty.
The indicted Trump aides include former campaign chair , who has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is awaiting trial on a broad slate of money laundering and fraud charges not connected to his work for the campaign.
Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy, who also worked for the campaign, is also implicated in those charges and has pleaded guilty.
George Papadapoulos, a former foreign policy aide the campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about being told that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton, then Trump’s election rival.
And former national security advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty last year to lying to federal investigators about conversations he had with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Friday’s announcement comes one day after FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok was grilled by House Republicans for roughly 10 hours about his conduct during the presidential race. The interview quickly devolved into shouting matches after some GOP lawmakers began to personally go after the top FBI official, who was removed from Mueller’s probe after text messages of his criticizing Trump during the campaign came to light.
Rosenstein appeared to take a shot at lawmakers who are publicly voicing their doubts about the Mueller probe.
“I want to caution you, the people who speculate about federal investigations usually do not know all the relevant facts. We do not try cases on television or in congressional hearings,” Rosenstein said.
“Most anonymous leaks are not from the government officials who are actually conducting these investigations.”
The No. 2 DOJ official also recently testified before Congress, where he was pressed about his role overseeing the high-profile Russia probe.
-Katie Bo Williams and Olivia Beavers contributed. Updated at 1:17 p.m.