Washington, Feb 17 (IANS) US Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud Washington, according to the Department of Justice.
In addition, three defendants were charged on Friday with conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft, reports CNN.
“The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the US, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said.
Mueller had convened a grand jury as part of his ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as any possible connections between Moscow and President Donald Trump’s campaign associates.
According to the indictment, beginning as early as 2014, the Russian organisation Internet Research Agency began operations to interfere with the US political system, including the 2016 election.
The defendants allegedly posed as American nationals, created false US personas and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences, CNN quoted the indictment as saying.
Two of the Russians also allegedly travelled to the US in 2014 to gather intelligence for their operations.
The Internet Research Agency had a “strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system”, it added.
Twelve of the 13 defendants charged worked for the Internet Research Agency.
In response, the White House on Friday night said Trump was fully briefed on the indictment and “is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected”.
“It is more important than ever before to come together as Americans,” Trump said in the statement.
“We 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… We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”
A White House official told CNN that Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray briefed the President on the indictment at the White House on Friday morning.