US Special Counsel indicts 13 Russians for election meddling

World Today

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 16: U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announces the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian organizations for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election February 16, 2018 at the Justice Department in Washington, DC. The indictments are the first charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller while investigating interference in the election. (Win McNamee/AFP)

A 37-page indictment unsealed on Friday names 13 Russians and three Russian organizations which, according to the document, “knowingly and intentionally conspired” to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg reports.

The indictment said the defendants did so specifically to help then-candidate Donald Trump and to hurt his rival Hillary Clinton.

The indictment reflects the conclusions of a federal grand jury comprised of civilians – assembled by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller – that there was criminal activity worth prosecuting.

The White House released a statement following the news saying that President Donald Trump was fully briefed on the issue “and is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates – that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia”.

The statement also quoted Trump.

“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,” Trump said.

In speaking to reporters on Friday, Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy U.S. Attorney General, said that unwitting American nationals may have been involved, but, he added, no Americans are currently suspected of knowingly helping the Russian defendants.

“The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns and stage political rallies,” Rosenstein said. “The Americans did not know they were communicating with Russians.”

Rosenstein also said the indictment does not suggest that the activity of the defendants in any way altered the outcome of the election.

The Justice Department, Rosenstein said, will proceed through normal channels and ask Moscow to extradite the defendants. But it is unlikely the Russian nationals will ever face a U.S. courtroom. Friday’s development could be seen as a tactic by Mueller, perhaps meant to send a message to the White House.

President Trump was reportedly briefed personally about the indictment on Friday before it was released to the public.

Past indictments of individuals associated with the 2016 Trump campaign stemmed from activities before the campaign was launched.

This is the first criminal indictment by the special counsel directly related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Intelligence officials have definitively said Russia interfered in the election, and recently warned that Moscow was actively trying to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections.

At various times, U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed those conclusions, while acknowledging that there may have been interference. Trump continues to reject suggestions that he or anyone in his campaign colluded with Russia to affect the election’s outcome.

Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the U.S. elections and said the entire discussion is part of the domestic American political environment. On Friday, immediately following the unsealing of the indictment, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman called the allegations absurd.

Vladimir Golstein talks about the US indictments of 13 Russians for alleged election interference

CGTN’s Susan Roberts spoke with Russian Studies Professor Vladimir Golstein from Brown University about the U.S. indictments of 13 Russians for allegedly helping then-candidate Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election.