Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein held a brief press conference Friday to explain details in the indictment of 13 Russians over alleged election interference. Rosenstein said that no Americans had any knowledge of the operation listed in this indictment and that the operation had no impact on the outcome of the election.
ROD ROSENSTEIN: The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 presidential election.
The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.
According to the allegations in the indictment, 12 of the individual defendants worked, at various times, for a company called Internet Research Agency, LLC, a Russian company based in St. Petersburg.
The other individual defendant, Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, funded the conspiracy through companies known as Concord Management and Consulting, LLC; Concord Catering; and many affiliates and subsidiaries. The conspiracy was part of a larger operation called Project Lakhta. Project Lakhta included multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation, and others targeting foreign audiences in multiple countries.
Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of people in its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas, to technical and administrative support personnel, with an annual budget of millions of dollars.
Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged into departments, including graphics, search engine optimization, information technology and finance departments.
In 2014, the company established a translator project focused on the United States. In July of 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project. Two of the defendants allegedly traveled to the United States in 2014 to collect intelligence for their American influence operations.
In order to hide the Russian origins of their activities, the departments allegedly purchased space on computer servers located here in the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, making it appear that those accounts were controlled by persons located in the United States.
They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media networks.
The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns and stage political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, the Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians.
After the election, the defendants allegedly staged rallies to support the president-elect, while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election. For example, the defendants organized one rally to support the president-elect and another rally to oppose him, both in New York, on the same day.
On September 13th of 2017, soon after the news media reported that the special counsel's office was investigating evidence that Russian operatives had used social media to interfere with the 2016 election, one defendant allegedly wrote, quote, "We had a slight crisis here at work. The FBI busted our activity. So I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with my colleagues," end quote.
The indictment includes eight criminal counts. Count one alleges a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States by all of the defendants. The defendants allegedly conspired to defraud America by impairing the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, the United States Department of Justice and the Department of State.
Those organizations of the U.S. government are responsible for administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.
Count two charges conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud by Internet Research Agency and two of the individual defendants. And counts three through eight charge aggravated identity theft by Internet Research Agency and four individuals.
Now, there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.
I want to caution you that everyone changed with a crime is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court. At trial, prosecutors must introduce credible evidence that is sufficient to prove each defendant guilty beyond any reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury. The special counsel's investigation is ongoing. There will be no comments from the special counsel at this time.
This indictment serves as a reminder that people are not always who they appear to be on the internet. The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed.
The Department of Justice will continue to work cooperatively with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies and with the Congress to defend our nation against similar current and future efforts.
I want to thank the federal agents and prosecutors who are working on this case for their exceptional service, and I'll be happy to take a few questions.
QUESTION: Jack, is there concern that this -- the (ph) indictment undermines the outcome of the election?
ROSENSTEIN: Well, haven't I (ph) identified for you the allegations in the indictment? There's no allegation in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election.
QUESTION: On page 4 of the indictment, paragraph 6, it specifically talks about the Trump campaign, saying that defendants communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.
My question is, later in the indictment, campaign officials are referenced, not by their name; by "campaign official 1" or "2" or "3." Were campaign officials cooperative, or were they duped? What is their relationship with this?
ROSENSTEIN: Again, there's no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge. And the nature of the scheme was the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists, even going so far as to base their activities on a virtual private network here in the United States so, if anybody traced it back to that first jump, they appeared to be Americans.
STAFF: We'll take one more question.
QUESTION: Have you had any assurances from the Russians that they will provide these individuals for prosecution?
ROSENSTEIN: There's been no communication with the Russians about this. We'll follow the ordinary process of seeking cooperation and extradition. Thank you very much.