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Special counsel delivers first election-related indictments against Russian nationals, entities


Robert Mueller testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in February 2011 in Washington, D.C. The investigation led by Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election delivered its first charges in relation to actual election meddling Friday. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Thirteen Russian nationals in collaboration with three business entities have been implicated in meddling with the 2016 presidential, according to an indictment released Friday by the office of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose investigation is focusing on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The indictments allege 13 Russian nationals, operating in collaboration with and under the direction of three foreign companies, broke federal law by "impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes," including the 2016 elections.

Actions intended to interfere with the U.S. political system, which are detailed in the 37-page document, are alleged to have dated back as early as 2014. Some of the Russian nationals charged in the indictment are also accused of entering the U.S. under false pretenses to conduct research, particularly on voter perception and in swing states.

Those implicated in these charges are accused of using social media accounts — including Instagram accounts named "Woke Blacks" and "Blacktivist," and posting in a Facebook group "United Muslims of America" — to sow distrust in the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In addition to the creation and use of these accounts, which were intended to look like they were run by U.S. activists, those charged Friday are also accused of creating and utilizing social media accounts which supported the campaign of President Trump. The accounts named are accused of staging political rallies in support of the campaign.

Some of these accounts are alleged to have been created using real or manufactured U.S. citizens' identities, while others are general group names, such as "Being Patriotic" and an account posing as the Tennessee Republican Party, which was removed last year. The accounts intended to portray actual people were allegedly used to reach out to U.S.-based pro-Trump organizations to stage political rallies.

In addition to social media usage, those charged are accused of establishing Russian bank and credit card accounts registered in the names of fake U.S. citizens. They are then alleged to have purchased advertisements on social media using PayPal. 

Some samples of the advertisements were included in the charging documents.

The establishment of these bank and credit cards which were alleged in the indictment, in combination with the actions intended to hide the money used in these transactions also alleged in the documents provided by the special counsel's office, resulted bank and wire fraud charges.

In addition to those charges, and the allegations of intention to defraud the U.S. government, the Russian nationals and companies were also charged with aggravated identity theft. 

Jesse Naranjo

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