A dozen Russian intelligence officers were on Friday charged with hacking former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the US Democratic Party in a stunning indictment just three days before US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The charges were drawn up by special counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is looking into Russian interference in the November 2016 election and whether any members of Trump’s campaign team colluded with Moscow.
Democratic leaders immediately called for Trump to cancel tomorrow’s scheduled meeting with Putin in Helsinki, but the White House said that the summit would go ahead.
“It’s on,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
The 29-page indictment accuses members of the Russian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate, commonly known as the GRU, of carrying out “large-scale cyberoperations” to steal Clinton campaign and Democratic Party documents and e-mails.
“There’s no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result,” US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said as he announced the charges at a news conference in Washington.
“There’s no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime,” he said.
“[The] conspirators corresponded with several Americans during the course of the conspiracy through the Internet,” Rosenstein said, but added that “there’s no allegation in this indictment that the Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers.”
Rosenstein said he briefed Trump about the indictment before Friday’s announcement and that the timing was determined by “the facts, the evidence and the law.”
News of the indictment came as Trump was meeting Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and just 72 hours before his meeting with Putin.
“This indictment makes clear just how vast this operation was — including Russian intelligence officers’ intrusion into the website of a state election board and theft of information related to approximately 500,000 voters,” US Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Tom Perez said on Twitter. “The Russian government attacked our democracy in 2016, and the DNC was a primary target of that attack.”
US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Trump to cancel the talks with Putin.
“These indictments are further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win,” Schumer said in a statement. “President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections.”
Republican US Senator John McCain said the summit should be called off if Trump is not ready to warn Putin there is a “serious price to pay for his ongoing aggression towards the United States and democracies around the world.”
“If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward,” McCain said.
Speaking in Britain before the indictments were unveiled, Trump said he would ask Putin about the allegations of election meddling.
“I will absolutely, firmly ask the question, and hopefully we’ll have a good relationship with Russia,” he told a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
However, he simultaneously denounced the Mueller investigation as a “rigged witch hunt,” saying that he has been “tougher on Russia than anybody.”
The White House highlighted that Rosenstein’s remarks that no Americans had been charged.
“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,” the White House said in a statement. “This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”
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