whitehouse.gov via wikimedia
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, shown in the White House in 2012 (whitehouse.gov via wikimedia)

The office of special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies in an organized scheme to rig the 2016 presidential election.

The indictment, available for download below, includes charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

The indictment says defendants in the organization posed as US citizens and created false US personas and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences. The groups and pages addressed divisive US political and social issues and falsely claimed to be controlled by US activists when, in fact, they were controlled by the defendants. The indictment also says defendants used stolen identities of real US citizens to post on social media accounts controlled by their organization.

The indictment says that “over time, these social media accounts became defendants’ means to reach significant numbers of Americans for purposes of interfering with the US political system,” including the presidential election of 2016.

“Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities,” the indictment says.

The president has repeatedly denied accusations that he or his campaign colluded in any way with the Russian government.

However, the indictment also alleges that there was communication with at least three unnamed Trump campaign officials, who are referred to in the indictment as “Campaign Official 1,” “Campaign Official 2,” and “Campaign Official 3.”

According to the indictment, in August 2016 the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to a false US persona “Matt Skiber” account created by the defendants with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign — “Campaign Official 1 ” — who was involved in the campaign’s Florida operations, and provided Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com.

The indictment continues:

On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false US persona, joshmilton024@gmail.com, to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow heJp Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida. The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations’’ in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

The indictment then says that the Defendants and their co-conspirators sent money via interstate wire to another real U.S. person recruited by the Russian organization, using one of their false US personas, to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.

Download and read the indictment here.

Watch Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s announcement of the indictment on C-SPAN here.

The indictment also alleges that the defendants deleted and destroyed data, including emails, social media accounts, and other evidence of their activities following public reporting from June 2014 to 2015 identifying operations conducted by the organization in the US.

Beginning around September 2017, US social media companies, starting with Facebook, publicly reported that they had identified Russian expenditures on their platforms to fund political and social advertisements.

Facebook’s initial disclosure of the Russian purchases occurred on or about September 6, 2017, and included a statement that Facebook was working with the Department of Justice and had “shared (its) findings with US authorities investigating these issues,” the indictment says.

The indictment continues:

Defendants and their co-conspirators thereafter destroyed evidence for the purpose of impeding the investigation. On or about September 13, 2017, [Defendant Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina] wrote in an email to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.” [Kaverzina] further wrote, “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”

Following the release of the indictments, Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy described them as both “chilling” and “jarring.”

“This blockbuster indictment depicts a massive, chilling Russian attack on our nation’s democracy, using sophisticated social media and complex fraud to derail our elections, sow discord, and seek to distort the outcome,” Blumenthal said. “This detailed document outlines a terrifying blueprint of ongoing and future Russian assaults on our democratic institutions. These criminal charges indisputably demonstrate the need for strong sanctions to make these Russians and their government pay a price, so they are deterred and stopped. So far, President Trump has refused to apply any such deterrents — and declined even to acknowledge the Russian criminal conspiracy that is so powerfully portrayed here.”

Blumenthal continued: “The Russians attacking our democracy were real criminals who had a real impact that will be repeated now and in future elections – as the intelligence community warned publicly only days ago. Americans should be deeply appalled and alarmed, even if the President denies reality.”

Murphy’s statement says: “These indictments are jarring. Russia spent a lot of time and money trying to elect Donald Trump, and we’re just starting to understand all that went into it. What’s particularly alarming is that these Russians didn’t just run social media accounts or hack into emails, they staged political rallies and paid Americans to do Putin’s dirty work in our backyard.

“A hostile foreign government going to such lengths to install its preferred candidate in the White House sounds like a bad Hollywood script, but it’s very real. Only the perpetrators know the extent of the activity involved, but it’s apparent that any American citizen who knowingly helped them get their way is guilty of serious crimes against their country. Every American should want to find out the facts here, no matter where they lead.”

Blumenthal also said that the Special Counsel and the FBI “are making solid progress in their pursuit of irrefutable criminal wrongdoing by the Russians and others,” adding that Mueller is proceeding with “vigor and independence.”

President Donald Trump responded to the indictments via Twitter on Friday afternoon:

“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”