MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) — A federal grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States, the Department of Justice announced Friday.
In addition, three defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft.
“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.
Yes, there’s a Florida connection.
The grand jury had been empaneled by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as any possible connections between Russia and Trump campaign associates.
FBI Director Chris Wray and Rosenstein briefed President Donald Trump on the indictments at the White House on Friday morning, a White House official said.
Beginning as early as 2014, the Russian organization Internet Research Agency began operations to interfere with the US political system, including the 2016 elections, according to the indictment.
The defendants allegedly posed as US persons, created false US personas, and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences, the indictment reads.
“The defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located here in the United States in order to set up a virtual private network,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday. “The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish 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 United States. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans advocating for and against particular candidates. The established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisement son social media networks.”
Rosenstein went on, “The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities from both political campaigns and staged political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment the Americans did not know they were communicating with Russians.”
Some of those rallies took place in Florida.
There are a list of references to Florida in the indictment included but not limited to:
The indictment claims Defendants and co-conspirators created and purchased Facebook advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally on August 4, 2016.
The next day, they used the false U.S. persona @March_for_Trump Twitter account to recruit and later pay a real U.S. person to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform at a rally in West Palm Beach.
On August 11, 2016, they used the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to recruit a real U.S. person to acquire signs and a costume depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.
On August 16, 2016, they used a false U.S. persona Instagram account connected to the organization-created group “Tea Party News” to purchase advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally.
On August 18, 3016, the real “Florida Goes Trump” Facebook account responded to the false persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided the campaign official’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com
The Internet Research Agency had a “strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system” including the election, according to the indictment.
Russians posted “derogatory information about a number of candidates,” and by mid-2016 they supported Trump and disparaged Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. They bought ads and communicated with “unwitting” people tied to Trump campaign and others to coordinate political activities.
Rosenstein said Friday that the indictment does not contain any allegations that any Americans knowingly participated in the activity.
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he said. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.
The White House Press Secretary released a statement Friday afternoon following the release of the indictment which reads in part, “President Donald J. Trump has been fully briefed on this matter and is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates—that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.
President Trump says, “It is more important than ever before to come together as Americans. We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio also issued a statement on the matter saying,
“Today’s indictments of 13 Russian nationals by the Department of Justice Special Counsel is a positive first step toward deterring future Russian meddling in our elections. Russian active measures against the U.S. are not new, and their principal purpose is to sow discord in our society. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have joined my colleagues in demonstrating through open hearings Russian efforts to use social media and other mechanisms to orchestrate chaos in our political discourse. Today’s indictments clearly demonstrates that Vladimir Putin is neither a Democrat nor a Republican – this is not a partisan issue, and we cannot allow a foreign country to actively interfere in our political dialogue and divide us as a nation against each other.”
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