Thirteen Russians and three Russian entities were charged Friday with an elaborate plot to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
The indictment , brought by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, alleges that Russians used bogus social media postings and advertisements fraudulently purchased in the name of Americans to sway political opinion during the race between Republican Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.
The charges are the most direct allegation to date of illegal Russian meddling in the election.
The goal, the indictment says, was to “sow discord in the US political system, including the 2016 presidential election.”
Charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.
The charges arise from Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election and whether there was improper coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Before Friday, four people, including Trump’s former national security adviser and former campaign chairman, had been charged in Mueller’s investigation.
Trump says ‘no collusion’ after Russians indicted for election meddling
US President Donald Trump on Friday held up the indictment of 13 Russians -- and no Americans -- for meddling in the 2016 election as vindication that his campaign team did not collude with Moscow.
"Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president," Trump tweeted, pointing to details of the indictment as evidence of his name being cleared.
"The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!"
US Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted the 13 Russian nationals, as well as three companies, for running a secret campaign to tilt the presidential election.
The unsealed indictment details a stunning operation that began in 2014 and aimed to sow social division inside the United States, and influence its politics including the 2016 vote.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed claims of Russian interference as "fake news" designed to take away from his election victory over Hillary Clinton.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the indictments contained "no allegation" that any American was a knowing participant in the meddling, and said there was no judgment on whether the election outcome was affected.
In a separate White House statement reacting to the indictments, Trump urged his fellow citizens to "unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections."
"We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful," Trump was quoted as saying.
"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."