A grand jury in Washington on Friday indicted the Russian organization Internet Research Agency, along with several other associated companies and individuals, on eight charges related to unlawful interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The 37-page indictment, filed in Washington federal district court, alleged the company and individuals were engaged in a broad conspiracy with the “strategic goal of sowing discord” during the elections as early as 2014. The defendants focused their efforts on aiding the Trump campaign and disparaging Hillary Clinton, the indictment said.
Individuals working for the organization posed as U.S.-based activists, maintained and operated social media groups and pages “designed to attract U.S. audiences,” purchased advertisements on social media sites, and staged political rallies in the United States to both support and oppose President Donald Trump. The charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and five counts of identity theft.
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“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was an illegal participant in this activity,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel’s investigation, said during a press conference at the Justice Department.
Rosenstein said there would be no comments from the special counsel’s office. The public press announcement was the first as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging probe.
Separately, a California man named Richard Pinedo pleaded guilty Feb. 12 to one count of identify fraud, according to recently unsealed documents from the special counsel’s office. Pinedo, represented by Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer Jeremy Lessem, is accused of operating an online service designed to circumvent digital payment companies’ security features. He also sold bank account numbers over the internet, according to court documents, though it’s unclear if his charges are related to the Russians.
The charges were the latest to come out of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election. Last year, that probe resulted in the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and another adviser, Rick Gates, on conspiracy and money laundering charges related to foreign lobbying work that predated the campaign. Both have pleaded not guilty, although Gates is reportedly nearing a plea deal with prosecutors.
Another target of Mueller’s probe, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition. Flynn, who is represented by Covington & Burling partner Robert Kelner, is cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
Mueller’s team has carried out the investigation against the backdrop of intense political scrutiny.
According to a New York Times report, White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to quit last summer after President Donald Trump ordered Mueller’s firing. McGahn, a former partner at Jones Day, had previously pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stay in charge of the special counsel investigation. Sessions recused himself nonetheless, a move that put the investigation under the guise of Rosenstein.
Rosenstein has been in the president’s crosshairs since appointing Mueller to lead the special counsel probe. Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, who in the event of Rosenstein’s firing would have been in line to oversee the investigation, is leaving the Justice Department to be Walmart Inc.’s head of global corporate governance.
The indictment is posted below: