Thirteen Russians individuals, along with three Russian companies, have been criminally charged with tampering and interfering with the 2016 election in a new development in Robert Mueller’s investigation into election fraud during the presidential election two years ago. All parties were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States while three defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. Five of the defendants have been charged with aggravated identity theft.
The last count refers to the fact that the defendants used computer systems within the USA to hide the origins of their activities. According to the indictment, “Defendants, posing as US persons and creating false US personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences,” which links to previous concerns that Russian operatives used social media to spread misinformation during the election campaign.
The three companies include the so-called ‘Internet Research Group’ which has been identified as a Russian state-backed ‘troll-farm’ which paid genuine activists to stage protests on socially divisive issues using Russian trolls posing as American citizens. One defendant, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, is accused of using companies he controlled – including Concord Management and Consulting, and Concord Catering – to finance similar operations. Those involved were paid salaries and bonuses for the work.
The indictments offer further proof that Russian operatives, backed by the Russian government and exploiting social media, tried to interfere with the US presidential election in order to take advantage of America’s deep divisions in politics. Donald Trump has constantly denied that there was any collusion between his campaign and Russia or any interference with the election results. The Kremlin has also denied any involvement.
His denial is at odds with the conclusions of the US intelligence community which stated that there is sufficient evidence that Russia mounted an attack on the US political system with the aim of getting Donald Trump elected. In fact, according to the indictment, those named have been discussing how to influence the election since 2014 while stealing the identities of US citizens and creating fake Twitter accounts made to look like they originated in the US.
The indictment is part of a major development into Mueller’s criminal investigation into interference during the 2016 election and indicates a hugely significant turning point as Mueller’s team attempts to trace the complex web of relationships and connections between Trump and Russia. It also follows the news that Steve Bannon has already been quizzed by the investigation and indications that Rick Gates, Paul Manafort’s deputy, may be preparing to cooperate with Mueller over his charges.
Once again, Mueller proves that his investigation is far from over.