WASHINGTON (AP) — Twelve Russian military intelligence officers hacked into the Clinton presidential campaign and Democratic Party email accounts and released tens of thousands of private communications in a sweeping conspiracy by the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, according to an indictment announced three days before President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The indictment contains special counsel Robert Mueller’s first charges against Russian government officials for interfering in American politics, an effort U.S. intelligence agencies say was aimed at helping the Trump campaign and harming the election bid of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The indictment lays out how, months before Americans went to the polls, Russian officers schemed to break into key Democratic email accounts, including those belonging to the Clinton campaign, Democratic National Committee Chairman John Podesta and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Politically damaging emails for Clinton appeared on WikiLeaks in the election’s critical final stretch.
The charges allege that the Russian defendants, using a persona known as Guccifer 2.0, in August 2016 contacted a person close to the Trump campaign saying it would be a “great pleasure” to help. And they allege that the hackers, hours after Trump encouraged Russia to find missing Clinton emails, tried for the first time to break into email accounts used by Clinton’s personal office.
The indictment does not allege that Trump campaign associates were involved in the hacking or that Americans were knowingly in touch with Russian officers. It also does not allege that any vote tallies were altered by hacking. The White House emphasized those points in a statement that offered no condemnation of the alleged Russian conspiracy. Trump has repeatedly expressed skepticism about Russian involvement in the hacking.
U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in response to the indictment that Americans should “stand united against Putin’s past and planned future attacks against us.”
“All patriotic Americans should understand that Putin is not America’s friend, and he is not the President’s buddy,” said the statement from Sasse, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
If the involvement of the officers in the Russian intelligence agency known as the GRU is proved, it would shatter Kremlin denials of the Russian state’s involvement in the U.S. elections.
The Russian defendants are not in custody, and it is not clear whether they will ever appear in a U.S. courtroom. The indictment accuses them, starting in March 2016, of covertly monitoring the computers of dozens of Democratic officials and volunteers, implanting malicious computer code known as malware to explore the networks and steal data and using phishing emails to gain access to accounts. One attempt at interference noted in the indictment came hours after Trump, in a July 27, 2016, speech, suggested that Russians should look for emails that Clinton said she had deleted from her tenure as secretary of state. “Russia, if you’re listening,” Trump said, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
That evening, the indictment says, the Russians attempted to break into email accounts used by Clinton’s personal office, along with 76 Clinton campaign email addresses.
The Trump-Putin meeting is scheduled for Monday in Finland. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer urged Trump to cancel the meeting until Russia takes steps to prove it won’t interfere in future elections.