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US Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 13 Russian nationals and three companies accused of running a secret campaign to tilt the 2016 presidential election.

DBliss Media World
Special counsel Robert Mueller is overseeing the probe into
Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, and possible collusion
with Donald Trump's campaign
 (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / ALEX WONG)


US Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 13 Russian nationals and three companies accused of running a secret campaign to tilt the 2016 presidential election.

The unsealed indictment details a stunning operation that began in 2014 and aimed to sow social division inside the United States, influence US politics "including the presidential election of 2016."

Mueller alleges the campaign -- under the direction of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Vladimir Putin -- by mid-2016 became focused on boosting Donald Trump and demeaning his rivals.

It allegedly involved "hundreds" of people working in shifts and with a budget of millions of dollars.

According to the indictment, the group posed as US citizens on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram and posted content that reached "significant numbers" of Americans.

The group was allegedly in contact with "unwitting" members of the Trump campaign, but had a broader "strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system."

It provided content that was retweeted by both the president's sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr as well as other top campaign officials and members of Trump's inner circle.

"There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity," said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosensten.

He added that there was also no judgment on whether the campaign "altered the outcome."

The allegations are a double-edged sword for Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed claims of Russian interference as "fake news" and a "hoax" designed to take away from his election victory.

On one hand they confirm Russia interference, but they seem to exonerate his staff from suspicions they knowingly colluded with this portion of Moscow's election activities.

Four Trump campaign officials, including his campaign manager Paul Manafort and his national security advisor Michael Flynn have already been indicted as part of Mueller's broader investigation.

Trump has publicly mulled firing the former FBI director and has repeatedly sought to influence his investigation through public warnings.

The White House said that Trump had been briefed on the findings and it expected to issue a statement later in the day.

None of the 13 individuals are in US custody.

- Troll farm -

The group was said to be based in Putin's home town of Saint Petersburg, but some of the accused traveled to the United States for political intelligence gathering.

Stops included Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan -- a pivotal state in the election -- Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and New York.

An unnamed Texas-based American political operative is said to have instructed them to focus on so-called "purple states" which swing between Republican and Democratic control.

The group organized pro-Trump rallies in Florida and New York, but much of its work was focused on producing material that was damaging to the Democrat Hillary Clinton and to Trump's Republican rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Aside from Trump, the group is said to have supported Green presidential candidate Jill Stein and Clinton's Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.

Two of the firms are said to have Russian government contracts.

Known as Putin's "chef," Prigozhin runs a company that works for the Kremlin to cater at receptions. He has been photographed with the Russian president. His Concord group is already under US sanction.

In carrying out the influence campaign, Prigozhin's group is accused of buying US social security numbers and bank account numbers.

In a separate filling Mueller indicted an American named as Ricardo Pinedo for selling such items.


By AFP
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