Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian military officials on Friday and accused them of hacking into two Democratic Party computer systems to sabotage the 2016 presidential election.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment, filed in federal district court in Washington, just days before a scheduled Monday summit in Helsinki between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that Putin ordered a Russian effort to manipulate the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
Rosenstein said the Russians stole and released Democratic documents after planting malicious computer codes in the network of the Democratic National Committee as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Russians also illegally downloaded data related to some 500,000 voters from a state database, he charged.
While many of the indictment’s details confirmed previous news reports and other assessments, it dramatically shifts the context for Trump’s upcoming meeting with Putin, whom U.S. intelligence services have concluded was behind the 2016 election interference scheme. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer quickly called on Trump to cancel the planned meeting.
Speaking at a press conference at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, Rosenstein said he briefed Trump about the upcoming criminal charges earlier this week. He said the indictment’s timing was “a function of the collection of the facts, the evidence, and the law and a determination that it was sufficient to present the indictment at this time.”
“I’ll let the president speak for himself,” Rosenstein told reporters when asked if Trump—who just this morning in Great Britain again blasted the Russia investigation as a “rigged witch hunt”—supported the latest step in the nearly 14-month old Mueller probe.
“Obviously it was important for the president to know what information we’ve uncovered because he’s got to make very important decisions for the country. So he needs to understand what evidence we have for an election interference,” he added.
Rosenstein added that the indictment does not allege that any U.S. citizen committed a crime, nor that “the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result.”
White House officials and Trump allies declared Rosenstein’s statement as validating Trump’s claim that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Moscow.
“The indictments Rod Rosenstein announced are good news for all Americans,” said Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. “The Russians are nailed. No Americans are involved. Time for Mueller to end this pursuit of the President and say President Trump is completely innocent.”
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SOURCE: Politico, Darren Samuelsohn, Cory Bennett and Josh Gerstein