Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictments of Russian nationals in US election meddling Friday afternoon, and answered a few questions.
The Department of Justice announced Friday that it is filing charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups for interfering with the 2016 US elections.
Below are Rosenstein’s remarks in full.
The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 presidential election.
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.
According to the allegations in the indictment, 12 of the individual defendants worked at various times for a company called Internet Research Agency LLC, a Russian company based in St. Petersburg.
The other individual department, Evgeny Victorovich Posogon, funded the conspiracy through companies known as Concord Management and Consultants LLC, Concord Catering, and many affiliates and subsidiaries. The conspiracy was part of a larger operation called project Lacta.
Project Lacta included multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation, and others targeting foreign audiences in multiple countries. Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of people in its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support personnel, with an annual budget of millions of dollars.
Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged into departments including graphics, search engine optimization, information technology and finance departments.
In 2014, the company established a translator project focused on the United States. In July 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project. Two of the defendants allegedly traveled to the United States in 2014 to collect intelligence for their American influence operations. In order to hide the Russian origins of their activities, the departments allegedly purchased space on computer servers located here in the United States in order to set up a virtual private network.
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 the United States.
They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans advocating for and against particular candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media networks. The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities for political campaigns and stage 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.
After the election, the defendants allegedly staged rallies to support the president-elect, while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election. For example, the defendants organized one rally to support the president-elect and another rally to oppose him, both in New York on the same day.
On September 13 of 2017, soon after the news media reported that the special counsel’s office was investigating evidence that Russian operatives had used social media to interfere with the 2016 election, one defendant allegedly wrote, “We had a slight crisis here at work. The FBI busted our activity. So I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with my colleagues.”
The indictment includes eight criminal counts. Count one alleges a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States, by all of the defendants. The defendants allegedly conspired to defraud America by impairing the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, the United States Department of Justice, and the Department of State.
Those organizations of the US government are responsible for administrating federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.
Count two charges conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud by Internet Research Agency and two of the individual defendants.
Counts three through eight charge aggravated identity theft by internet research agency and four individuals. Now, there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.
I want to caution you that everyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court. At trial, prosecutors must introduce credible evidence that is sufficient to prove each defendant guilty beyond any reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury. Special counsel’s investigation is ongoing. There will be no comments from the special counsel at this time. This indictment serves as a reminder that people are not always who they appear to be on the internet. The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence and democracy. We must not allow them to succeed.
The Department of Justice will continue to work cooperatively with other intelligence agencies and with the Congress to defend our nation against similar current and future efforts. I want to thank the federal agents and prosecutors who are working on this case for their exceptional service and I’ll be happy to take a few questions.
Is there concern that this influenced the outcome of the election?
What I have identified for you are the allegations in the indictment. There are no allegations in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election.
On page four of the indictment, paragraph six, it specifically talks about the Trump campaign, saying that defendants communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign. My question is later in the indictment, campaign officials are referenced not by their name, by campaign official one or two or three. Were campaign officials cooperative, or were they duped? What was their relationship with this?
There’s no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge, and the nature of the scheme was the kept defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear they were ordinary American political activists, even going so far as to base their activities on a virtual private network here in the United States, so if anybody traced it back to the first jump, they appeared to be American.