The US Justice Department has indicted 13 Russians and several companies for conspiring to disrupt the 2016 US election.
In the 37-page indictment released on Friday (local time), US Special counsel Robert Mueller has detailed charges against 13 Russian nationals and three companies for election meddling between 2014 to 2016.
The indictment describes a conspiracy to disrupt the election by people who adopted false online personas to push divisive messages, travelled to the US to collect intelligence and staged political rallies while posing as Americans in a multi-pronged effort with the aim of supporting Donald Trump and disparaging his rival Hillary Clinton.
One company, a St Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system, including the 2016 US presidential election”, the indictment said.
Mr Mueller’s detailed charges against the Russians for election meddling said they cooperated with “unwitting” campaign staffers and outside advisers.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Mueller probe, carefully chose his words as he stated, “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.”
“This indictment serves as a reminder that people are not always who they appear to be on the internet,” he told reporters.
“The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed,” he said.
For the White House, this is seen as a victory, as Mr Mueller has spent nine months probing for potential direct collusion between campaign aides and Russian entities.
US President Donald Trump was quick to seize on the indictment, saying in a tweet it was evidence his campaign did not collude in Moscow’s influencing of the 2016 election.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders followed with a statement echoing the “no collusion” claim in capital letters.
Mr Trump’s attorney John Dowd was jubilant in a statement of his own, saying, “The only thing I have to say is that I’m very happy for the country and Bob Mueller did a great job.”
Mr Trump also called for the indictment to mark the end of “outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories” about the election, asserting they “only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions.”
“We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections,” Mr Trump said.
In a Facebook post, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the allegations were absurd.
“Thirteen people interfered in the US elections?! Thirteen against an intelligence services budget of billions? Against intelligence and counterintelligence, against the latest developments and technologies? Absurd? Yes,” said.