Last Updated Jul 13, 2018 4:16 PM EDT
Twelve Russians have been indicted by a grand jury in the special counsel probe for alleged hacking during the 2016 election, including for hacking emails of the Democratic National Committee, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced Friday.
Rosenstein said the 12 defendants are all members of the Russian intelligence arm GRU, and attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election by "spear phishing" volunteers and employees of Hillary Clinton's campaign. By allegedly doing this — tricking staffers into clicking on emails from rogue accounts — they were able to steal usernames and passwords, eventually hacking into the networks of the Democratic National Campaign Committee and Democratic National Committee. The GRU, Rosenstein said, created and controlled the groups D.C. Leaks and Guccifer 2.0., which in 2016, posted thousands of emails from Democratic party officials.
"The object of the conspiracy was to hack into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election," the indictment reads.
The indictment says that the alleged conspirators "spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton campaign throughout the summer of 2016," and then goes on to say that "on or about July 27, 2016, the conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton's personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign."
Also on July 27, 2016, when those efforts had already been ongoing, Donald Trump expressed the hope that Russia would find Clinton's missing emails. "I will tell you this -- Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press," the GOP presidential nominee said at a press conference in Miami.
The indictment also claims in a related allegation that Russian officers hacked a state election board's website and stole the information of roughly 500,000 voters. The indictment also alleges the GRU officers hacked into computers belonging to a company that supplies software used to verify voter information, and targeted local and state election offices.
Rosenstein made it clear that no Americans are accused of any wrongdoing in this indictment.
"There is no allegation in this indictment that Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers," said Rosenstein, who also noted there is no evidence the alleged hacking had any impact on the election results.
The indictment does mention that Russians provided opposition research to a congressional candidate, although that individual is not named.
The indictment claims the conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, "received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate's opponent," the indictment reads.
The charges come just days before President Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Mr. Trump shouldn't be meeting with Putin one-on-one.
"There should be no one-on-one meeting between this president and Mr. Putin. There needs to be other Americans in the room," Warner told reporters Friday.
Rosenstein said he briefed Mr. Trump on the indictment earlier this week.
"I'll allow president to speak for himself," Rosenstein said when asked for Mr. Trump's response to the news. "Obviously it's important for the president to know what information we've uncovered because he's got to make very important decisions for the country. So he needs to understand what evidence we have of foreign election interference."
Hours before the DOJ announcement, in a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr. Trump called the Russia investigation into election meddling and any ties to Trump associates a "rigged witch hunt."
The White House Friday seized on Rosenstein's statement that the indictment doesn't include Americans, but did not condemn the Russians' alleged actions.
"Today's charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along," White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said.
Back in July 2016, Mr. Trump tweeted that the "new joke in town" is Russia leaked the "disastrous DNC emails."
"The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me," he tweeted on July 25, 2016.
Rudy Giuliani, the lawyer who is aiding Mr. Trump in the Russia investigation, used Rosenstein's announcement as an opportunity to call on Mueller to end his investigation and declare Mr. Trump's innocence.
When a reporter in London asked Mr. Trump if he would bring up election meddling with Putin, Mr. Trump said he would.
The charges come after Mueller's investigation has already led to the indictment of 13 Russian nationals who were accused of manipulating social media.
In the face of alleged foreign interference, Rosenstein urged unity and patriotism against foreign interference.
"When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans. Our response must not depend on who was victimized," Rosenstein said in his prepared remarks.
"The blame for election interference belongs to the criminals who committed election interference," the deputy attorney general added. "We need to work together to hold the perpetrators accountable, and keep moving forward to preserve our values, protect against future interference, and defend America."
It is unclear, if not unlikely, however, that the indicted Russians will ever see a courtroom. The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia.