usa x russia

By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Last Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller released a 37-page federal grand jury indictment against 13 Russians and three Russian organizations for their interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Russian organizations named in the indictment were the Internet Research Agency, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering.

Mueller’s announcement changed the trajectory of the Russian collusion investigation. As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told a news conference on Friday, “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 charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Rosenstein oversees the Mueller investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself because he had contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 election campaign.

How Do These Indictments Affect Mueller’s Investigation?

Mueller’s indictment states that Russian interference began in 2014. The defendants in question are accused of spreading false and derogatory information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

This Russian campaign of misinformation wasn’t confined to just Clinton. It also targeted Republican candidates Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). In addition to Trump, the Russian campaign supported Democratic candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Indictments Indicated that Russians Ran a Sophisticated Operation

Rosenstein described a sophisticated “information warfare” operation by the Russian Internet Research Agency, located in St. Petersburg. The Internet Research Agency set up hundreds of social media accounts using stolen or fictitious names on Google, Facebook and Twitter, among others.

The Internet Research Agency concentrated on creating fake social media accounts from seemingly politically active but nonexistent Americans. These so-called U.S. citizens would recruit actual Americans to take part in rallies and political activities in support of Trump’s candidacy. Rosenstein said the American activists had no idea they were communicating with Russians.

Among the 13 Russians charged was Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s chef” because of his close ties with the Russian President. Prigozhin made a fortune in government catering contracts from the Red Army and other Russian companies to Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering, which Prigozhin ran.

Democrats and Republicans React Differently to Indictments

“We have known that Russians meddled in the election, but these indictments detail the extent of the subterfuge,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), according to Fox News. “These Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system. It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself.”

Fox News added that Democrats “continued to suggest that people associated with Trump or his campaign could have been involved in Russia’s meddling.”

“It is imperative that the Special Counsel investigation be allowed to continue to follow the facts on the Trump-Russia scandal, unhindered by the White House or Republicans in Congress,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, (D-CA), said. “The American people deserve to know the full extent of Russia’s interference in our election and the involvement of Trump officials.”

Other Government Officials Knew about Russian Election Interference

Rosenstein said the Russians’ sophisticated operation began in 2014. However, he did not say if former President Barack Obama knew about the Russian interference. Rosenstein also didn’t indicate if then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-CIA Director John Brennan knew about the Russian misinformation campaign.

In September 2016, nearly half of all U.S. states reported that their voter registration systems had been targeted by malicious foreign actors. The Democratic National Committee’s email servers were reportedly hacked by Russia, but the DNC refused to permit a federal investigation of the breach.

In October 2016, the Obama administration said it was “confident” Russia was behind the email hacking. But Obama didn’t do anything until after the election.

DOJ and FBI Leaders Have Questions to Answer

Department of Justice and FBI officials need to explain their inaction with regard to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Former Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch ran the Department of Justice during this period and James Comey ran the FBI at the same time. It was widely known that Russia had a history of meddling in Western elections. Did these officials take any actions?

The FBI did not investigate the alleged hacking of the DNC email servers. The Bureau relied on a third party, California cyber security company CrowdStrike, to conduct this portion of the investigation. However, the Democratic Party paid CrowdStrike a significant sum of money.

The indictments are the first step in preventing Russian interference in future elections. But a lot of unanswered questions persist. Let’s hope we get the answers.