Russian nationals indicted for interfering in 2016 US Presidential elections

Russian athletes wait before the preliminary round of the men's hockey game between the team from Russia and the United States at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung South Korea Saturday Feb. 17 2018. (AP
Russian nationals indicted for interfering in 2016 US Presidential elections
Author

18 February, 2018

President Donald Trump's national security adviser said Saturday there was "incontrovertible" evidence of a Russian plot to disrupt the 2016 USA election, a blunt statement that shows how significantly the new criminal charges leveled by an American investigator have upended the political debate over his inquiry.

Shortly after charges were announced, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to suggest that these charges were evidence of "no collusion!" between Russian Federation and the Trump campaign staff.

Thirteen Russians and three Russian companies have been charged with interfering in the 2016 US Presidential election through social media propaganda. "We must not allow them to succeed'".

Specific Twitter accounts named in Friday's indictment included past account handles provided by Twitter to Congress in a list of known Russian-controlled Twitter handles previous year, including accounts impersonating Black Lives Matter activists and the Tennessee Republican Party. Hardly any analysts had assumed that Mueller would make a prominent early move to indict a little-remembered campaign aide, George Papadopoulos.

- Mueller and his team are moving with remarkable speed, wrapping up witnesses and substantiating a conspiracy to influence the election.

But he stressed that U.S. officials, including Vice-President Mike Pence, had in the past "denied that any country influenced results of the election". Mueller has multiple witnesses: Michael Flynn, Richard Pinedo (the indicted American), George Papadopoulos and soon, we are told, Rick Gates.

This week President Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was interviewed by Mueller.

A July 2016 Steele memo quotes a Russian source as saying there was evidence of an "extensive conspiracy between campaign team and Kremlin, sanctioned at highest levels and involving Russian diplomatic staff based in the U.S.".

"What about organizing a YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every Florida town?" read one message that Russian operatives sent to Trump supporters in the Sunshine State. "By February 2016, the suspects had decided whom they were supporting in the 2016 race". "Specialists were instructed to post content that focused on 'politics in the U.S., '" one section of the document reads, adding that those involved with the interference were told to "use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump - we support them)'".

Republicans' efforts, led by the clownish Rep. Devin Nunes.

Trump has been accused by opponents of trying to interfere with the investigation, which he denies. What has been implicit is now explicit: They are doing the Russians' work for them.

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The group purchased ads on social media and other websites either "expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton", the indictment said. In one case, it said, the Russians paid an unidentified person to build a cage aboard a flatbed truck and another to wear a costume "portraying Clinton in a prison uniform".

On Oct. 16, 2016, three weeks before the USA election, the Russian-controlled Instagram account "Woke Blacks" encouraged followers not to go to the polls, saying hatred of Trump was "forcing" black people to vote for "Killary": "We can not resort to the lesser of two devils".

The comments also reflected a decided shift from the Trump White House regarding Russia's possible role. The surprise 37-page indictment could alter the divisive U.S. domestic debate over Russia's meddling, undercutting some Republicans who, along with Trump, have attacked Mueller's investigation.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., released a written statement blasting the administration. He indicated that "Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014" and his supporters doesn't have anything to do with the interference.

Meanwhile, new questions mount about what his administration is doing to prevent Russian Federation from doing it again. "We must act to protect our democracy from the next round of attacks".

And it indicates the investigation includes looking into whether Russian Federation meddled in the run-up to the elections, following a string of charges relating to the actions of Trump associates. He added, "Given these indictments, President Trump should implement the sanctions that Congress has passed immediately".

They also relied on identity theft, stealing and then using the social security numbers, home addresses and birthdates of real Americans without their knowledge, the indictment says.

"So as long as we don't see facts, everything else is just blather", Lavrov said at the Munich Security Conference, a day after the USA indicted 13 Russians for allegedly running a secret campaign to sway the American vote. After the exchange, the Russian defendants frequently referred to targeting "purple states" in their interference efforts, the indictment alleges. Did any Trump official have any connection to the Russians? If we are now in pursuit of social media players, are the hackers who broke into the DNC and John Podesta's emails in sight?

As part of the inquiry, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has been charged with conspiring to defraud the USA in his dealings with Ukraine, and conspiracy to launder money. In other words, Mueller has been trolling the press-reminding us that he is often many steps ahead of us, and operating on a timeline of his own. Stay tuned. We are nowhere near the end of this investigation.

Butler reported from Washington.


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