Moscow now ac­cused of US elec­tion med­dling, in in­dict­ment

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON » Twelve Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers hacked into the Clin­ton pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and Demo­cratic Party 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 days be­fore Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sum­mit with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

The in­dict­ment rep­re­sents 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 29-page 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 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, along with 76 Clin­ton cam­paign email ad­dresses.

The in­dict­ment does not al­lege that Trump cam­paign as­so­ci­ates were in­volved in the hack­ing ef­fort 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 seized on 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 and has been ac­cused by Democrats of cozy­ing up to the Rus­sian pres­i­dent. He com­plained anew about the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore the in­dict­ment, say­ing the “stu­pid­ity” was mak­ing it “very hard to do some­thing with Rus­sia.”

The Krem­lin, mean­while, de­nied anew that it tried to sway the elec­tion. “The Rus­sian state has never in­ter­fered and has no in­ten­tion of in­ter­fer­ing in the U.S. elec­tions,” Putin’s for­eign af­fairs ad­viser, Yuri Ushakov, said Fri­day.

If the in­volve­ment of the of­fi­cers in the Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agency known as the GRU is proved, it would shat­ter the Krem­lin denials of the Rus­sian state’s in­volve­ment in the U.S. elec­tions given that the GRU is part of the state ma­chine.

The Rus­sian defendants are not in cus­tody, and it is not clear they will ever ap­pear in an Amer­i­can court­room, though the Jus­tice De­part­ment in re­cent years has seen value in in­dict­ing for­eign hack­ers in ab­sen­tia as pub­lic de­ter­rence.

The in­dict­ment iden­ti­fies the defendants as of­fi­cers with Rus­sia’s Main In­tel­li­gence Direc­torate of the Gen­eral Staff, also known as GRU. It 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 Rus­sians 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.

By June 2016, the defendants be­gan plan­ning the re­lease of tens of thou­sands of stolen emails and doc­u­ments, the in­dict­ment al­leges. The mes­sages were re­leased through fic­ti­tious per­sonas like DCLeaks and Guc­cifer 2.0.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, Guc­cifer 2.0 re­ceived a re­quest for stolen doc­u­ments from an uniden­ti­fied con­gres­sional can­di­date and pro­vided them, and sent pil­fered ma­te­ri­als on the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment to a jour­nal­ist.

On Aug. 15, the in­dict­ment says, Guc­cifer 2.0 reached out to some­one in reg­u­lar con­tact with the Trump cam­paign and asked the per­son if he or she had seen any­thing “in­ter­est­ing in the docs I posted?” Guc­cifer 2.0 of­fered help.

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