WASHINGTON — The White House said today’s indictment of 13 Russians in a campaign influence operation showed there was “no collusion,” while lawmakers said the administration should act off the work of the special counsel to better secure this year’s election.
A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment today against the Russian nationals accused of information warfare during the 2016 campaign season that included conspiracy with unnamed “persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury.”
All of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three are also charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five are charged with aggravated identity theft.
The case centers on the Internet Research Agency, “a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes” by setting up fake online personalities, establishing social media accounts, optimizing their search engine results, creating propaganda graphics, organizing rallies and more. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a press conference today that there’s “no allegation in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election” and no allegation in that specific indictment “that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.”
Soon after the indictment was released, the special counsel’s office said Richard Pinedo, a 28-year-old Santa Paula, Calif., man who bought and sold bank account numbers and helped clients set up PayPal accounts, pleaded guilty to identity fraud and is cooperating with Mueller. It was not yet clear what Pinedo’s connection is to the broader investigation.
Rosenstein stressed that “the special counsel’s investigation is ongoing” and “there will be no comments from the special counsel at this time.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement with all-caps emphasis today that President Trump, who flew to Florida today, “has been fully briefed on this matter 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.”
“President Trump says, ‘it is more important than ever before to come together as Americans. 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, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections,’” she added.
Trump did not answer question from reporters as he boarded Air Force One, but tweeted, “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement, “We have known that Russians meddled in the election, but these indictments detail the extent of the subterfuge.”
“These Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system. It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself,” Ryan said. “Today’s announcement underscores why we need to follow the facts and work to protect the integrity of future elections.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the indictments “make absolutely clear that the Russians perpetrated a strategic effort to undermine and influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election to support the campaign of Donald Trump, and are continuing to interfere with our elections.”
“As desperately as President Trump insists that the Special Counsel investigation is a ‘hoax’, these latest indictments build on multiple guilty pleas and indictments of several Trump campaign officials, demonstrating the gravity of the Trump-Russia scandal,” Pelosi said. “It is imperative that the Special Counsel investigation be allowed to continue to follow the facts on the Trump-Russia scandal, unhindered by the White House or Republicans in Congress… We are on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections. There is no time to waste to defend the integrity of our elections and our democracy.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said that “the Putin regime presents a pressing threat to American interests, including through Moscow’s long-running influence operations against the United States,” and said that though the Obama administration “failed to act” on House Intelligence Committee warnings about influence operations, “it’s gratifying to see that Russian agents involved in these operations have now been identified and indicted.”
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) replied to Trump’s tweet: “No, Mr. President. The Special Counsel’s indictment states no conclusion on issue of collusion or electoral impact of Russian interference on the election. The former is under investigation and latter is beyond their scope.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said the bipartisan work of his panel on uncovering Russian trolls across social media was “vindicated” by the indictment.
“While platforms like Facebook and Twitter are allowing Americans to communicate and share ideas in ways unimaginable just a decade ago, we’re also learning that we each bear some responsibility for exercising good judgment and a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to the things we read and share on social media,” Warner added.