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The Latest on the Russian Intel Officers Charged With Election Hacking

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictments on Friday morning. This is a breaking news story.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice, Friday, July 13, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice, Friday, July 13, 2018, in Washington.

Evan Vucci/AP

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday announced the Department of Justice is indicting 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking into the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The indictment is a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious, and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide and conquer us,” Rosenstein said. “So long as we are united in our commitment to the shared values enshrined in the Constitution, they will not succeed.”

The officials, who belong to a Russian military agency called GRU, allegedly hacked Clinton’s campaign and the DNC using a “spearfishing” technique that involved tricking volunteers and employees into revealing their passwords and other sensitive information. The defendants also allegedly hacked into Democratic networks and installed software that allowed them to spy on users and “exfiltrate” data from the computers.

The officials also allegedly sought to hack into the state board of elections, secretaries of state and private companies who supplied technology relating to the administration of elections. Their intention was to steal voter data. While announcing the charges, Rosenstein was careful to clarify that the indictment does not contend that the hacking affected the results of the election, only that it transpired. “There’s no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result,” he said.

To conceal their identities as they released the hacked information, the Russian officials used aliases. One of which, Guccifer 2.0, contacted at least one individual who was in regular contact with senior members of the Trump campaign.

According to the indictment, the officials spearfished members of the Clinton campaign on the same day Trump called for Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails.

The indictment includes snippets of a conversation between the alleged Russian officers posing as Guiccifer 2.0 and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, who is referred to as “a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.”

Stone had previously posted screenshots of the conversation online, in which Guccifer 2.0 wrote, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow… it would be a great pleasure to me.”

Reached for comment Friday morning, Stone downplayed the significance of the exchange. “As I testified before the House Intelligence Committee under oath my 24-word exchange with someone on Twitter claiming to be Guccifer 2.0 is benign based on its content context and timing,” Stone wrote in a text message to Rolling Stone. “This exchange is entirely public and provides no evidence of collaboration or collusion with Guccifer 2.0 or anyone else in the alleged hacking of the DNC emails, as well as taking place many weeks after the events described in today’s indictment.” (The indictment describes the conversation as taking place “on or about August 15” – the same date of the messages Stone posted online.)

Asked if he was ready to accept that he was speaking to a Russian entity at the time, Stone replied: “No court has yet confirmed this and I believe it would require an inspection of the DNC server at trial in order to prove it. Even if this is proven to be the case my exchange with him is still innocent based on its content and context and timing.” (The indictment does not allege any of the Americans who spoke with Guccifer 2.0 were aware that they were communicating with Russians at the time.)

The White House responded by highlighting the absence of any allegations against American citizens.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chairwoman of the DNC at the time of the hack, said in a statement she was pleased that the Department of Justice had continued to investigate the crime “despite Donald Trump’s dangerous distortions.”

Wasserman Schultz added, “I strongly believe that every individual who helped carry it out – foreign or domestic – should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”John Podesta, the former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign who was specifically targeted by the hackers, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “Donald Trump likes to describe this as a witch hunt – well, we just found some witches. And they were indicted.”

The news of the indictments comes three days before President Trump is scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. The president has on multiple occasions indicated that he does not believe Russia interfered in the election, despite the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies. Trump cited Russia’s claim that they did not meddle in the election as recently as June 28th.

Trump has said that he plans to bring up Russian election interference when he meets with Putin next week, but doesn’t seem too concerned about the outcome. “I know you’ll ask will we be talking about meddling?” Trump told reporters during a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday. “And I will absolutely bring that up. I don’t think you’ll have any, ‘Gee, I did it, I did it, you got me.’ There won’t be a Perry Mason here, I don’t think, but you never know what happens, right? But I will absolutely firmly ask the question. And hopefully we’ll have a very good relationship with Russia.”

“He may very well deny,” Trump said during a press conference in Brussels following the NATO summit Thursday morning. “What can I do?”

Though Putin will likely continue to deny Russia meddled in the election, the indictments will make it more difficult for Trump to convince Americans that Putin is telling the truth. The indictment provides a shocking amount of insight into the scope and complexity of Russia’s attempts to influence the election, making clear that Russian interference is not an abstract idea, but a series of criminal actions perpetrated against the United States by one of its greatest adversaries. As Rosenstein noted at the press conference announcing the charges, preventing such an attack from happening in the future should transcend partisan politics. “When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans,” he said.

Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told the White House press pool that the charges presented in the indictment are “consistent with what we have been saying all along,” in that they include “no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result.”

This is a breaking news story.

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