12 indicted for meddling in ’16 election

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 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The case follows a separate indictment that accused Russians of using social media to sow discord among American voters.

The 29-page indictment lays out how, months before Americans went to the polls, Russians schemed to break into key Democratic email accounts, including those belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Stolen emails, many politically damaging for Clinton, appeared on WikiLeaks in the campaign’s final stretch.

The charges say the Russian defendants, using a persona known as Guccifer 2.0, in August 2016 contacted a person in touch with the Trump campaign to offer help. And they say that on the same day Trump said in a speech, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Russian hackers tried for the first time to break into email accounts used by Clinton’s personal office.

Mueller did not allege Trump campaign associates were involved in the hacking effort, that Americans knowingly were in touch with Russian intelligence officers or that any vote tallies were altered by hacking. The White House seized on those points in a statement that offered no condemnation of Russian election interference.

It was unclear whether the indictment might factor into Trump’s meeting with Putin Monday.

He repeatedly has expressed skepticism about Russian involvement in the hacking while being accused by Democrats of cozying up to the Russian president. Trump complained about the Russia investigation hours 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.