Mueller: Russians entered U.S. to plot election meddling

Special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on Friday with an illegal “information warfare” scheme to disrupt the 2016 presidential election and assist the candidacy of President Donald Trump.

The dramatic indictment reveals a bold covert effort that went beyond the previously-known use of “fake news” and social media misdirection to divide American voters and harm Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

t charges that as early as 2014, Russian nationals physically entered the U.S., and, hiding their true identities, gathered intelligence, organized political rallies — and even paid Americans to assist their political sabotage. The Russians allegedly paid one American in Florida to dress up as Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform and hired another to build a cage to “imprison” the Clinton impersonator at a Florida rally.

The effort was led by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, a notorious online misinformation operation with suspected Kremlin ties, according to the indictment, and involved what the court filing called “unwitting” U.S. citizens and Trump campaign officials

The indictment concludes that the Internet Research Agency “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system.” While noting that the operation undermined multiple presidential candidates, including Trump GOP rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the document says that the shadowy Russian agency’s operations “included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump… and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”

Democrats said the new charges underscored the gravity of Mueller’s investigation and the need for his political independence amid calls from conservatives for an end to his work.

According to Mueller’s indictment, the defendants allegedly posed as Americans in online interactions with political and social activists. In once instance, the Russians “communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization” who recommended they focus on so-called “purple” states such as Colorado, Virginia and Florida. The indictment alleges that the Russians then began using the term “purple states” in subsequent planning.

“As desperately as President Trump insists that the Special Counsel investigation is a ‘hoax’, these latest indictments build on multiple guilty pleas and indictments of several Trump campaign officials, demonstrating the gravity of the Trump-Russia scandal,” Pelosi added.

Shortly after Trump’s tweet, the White House released a statement quoting Trump as saying, “[w]e cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which 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.”

The statement made no mention of any possible Trump administration response to the Russian interference. Trump has repeatedly said would like to forge warmer relations with Moscow.

(Excerpted from Politico 2/16/18)