A grand jury indictment released Friday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller accuses 13 Russian nationals and three companies of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
The indictment says the nationals, posing as Americans, contacted members of the Trump campaign.
But authorities said there was no allegation any American was a knowing participant.
Nor is there any allegation the scheme affected the election.
A Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency sought to wage “information warfare” against the United States beginning in 2014, the indictment charges, and by early to mid-2016 the Russian nationals were “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
The indictment cites American laws regulating the activities of foreigners to prevent “improper foreign influences on U.S. elections and on the U.S. political system.”
The laws include bans on foreign nationals making “certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections.”
The named defendants “knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the grand jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016,” the indictment claims.
The Russians allegedly posed “as U.S. persons and creat[ed] false U.S. personas” to run “social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences.”
They “falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by defendants.”
Their social media outreaches “became defendants’ means to reach significant numbers of Americans for purposes of interfering with the U.S. political system,” the document explains.
They funded the operations, traveled back and forth in pursuit of their goals and used computer facilities both inside and outside the U.S. to pursue “a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. president election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
They also are accused of staging political rallies and “without revealing their Russian identities” even “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”
They obtained visas through false statements, failed to register as foreign agents and through fraud and deceit made expenditures for the election, the charges say.
They also bought ads on social media sites, presented themselves on Facebook as “Secured Borders” and promoted hashtags on social media such as “#Hillary4Prison” and “#TrumpTrain.”
They allegedly reached out to “unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump campaign … as well as grassroots groups that supported then-candidate Trump.” They distributed the alleged conspirators’ work through those outside social media accounts.
The defendants also are accused of encouraging “U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. president candidate.”
They allegedly operated under the names “Woke Blacks,” “Blacktivist” and “United Muslims of America.”
They also purchased and published ads on Facebook, staged rallies that protested the results of the 2016 election, including a rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President.”
The grand jury also accuses them of destroying evidence of their work, about the time social media companies “publicly reported that they had identified Russian expenditures on their platforms.”
Mueller, who signed the indictment, listed as defendants Internet Research Agency — which operated under Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering — and individuals Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova, Anna Vladislovovna Bogacheva, Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, Maria Anatolyevna Bovda, Robert Sergeyevich Bovda, Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly, Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina and Vladimir Venkov.
“By in or around May 2014, the organization’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of ‘spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,'” the indictment says.
Counts also included conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.