Remarkably, the indictment also reveals that a congressional candidate sought, and received, stolen material from the hackers to use against an opponent.
The announcement raises the stakes for Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki on Monday and will intensify demands for him to take on the Russian leader over meddling in American politics. Trump has previously sought to downplay or dismiss the influence in Russian interference in his election victory.
A raft of Democratic members of Congress, led by Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, responded to the report by demanding Trump cancel his meeting with Putin.
Rosenstein said Trump, who was meeting with the Queen in the United Kingdom when the indictments were announced, had been made aware of the developments earlier in the week.
All 12 of the Russian nationals, who are identified by name in the indictment, are members of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, known as the GRU.
“These GRU officers, in their official capacities, engaged in a sustained effort to hack into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, and released that information on the internet under the names DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0,” Rosenstein said.
The persona Guccifer 2.0, who took credit in a blog post for hacking Democratic party emails and leaking them to WikiLeaks, originally claimed to be a lone wolf Romanian hacker operating independently of the Russian government.
According to the allegations in the indictment, the hacking operation was undertaken by two branches of the GRU: one unit responsible for stealing the information, the other for disseminating it.
The GRU officials allegedly used “spear phishing” emails – which trick recipients into revealing confidential information, such as passwords – to steal emails from employees of Clinton’s campaign. These employees included her campaign chairman John Podesta.
The officials were also allegedly able to hack into the DCCC and DNC computer networks, covertly monitor the activity of dozens of Clinton staffers and implant hundreds of files of malicious code on their computers.
They also conspired to hack into the computer files of state boards of elections and private companies providing election software to steal voter data, the indictment alleges.
The conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, allegedly received a request in August 2016 from a candidate for US Congress seeking dirt on an opponent and sent stolen material to the unnamed candidate.
They also allegedly communicated with a “person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J Trump”. The person is understood to be veteran Trump adviser and ally Roger Stone, who has previously disclosed his interactions with Guccifer 2.0.
Rosenstein said there was no allegation that US citizens were knowing participants in any illegal activity or that any of the alleged interference influence the outcome of the election.
The indictment states that the conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, timed the release of the stolen DCCC emails with WikiLeaks (referred to as Organisation 1) to heighten its impact on the election.
In private messages sent in June 2016, WikiLeaks urged Guccifer 2.0 – which published an initial tranche of stolen documents on a private blog – to send the site any further material related to Clinton, according to the indictment.
In early July WikiLeaks wrote: “If you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days perfable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after”.
These messages have not previously been revealed.
The conspirators then allegedly sent WikiLeaks an encrypted file containing the hacked emails in mid July. On July 22, three days before the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released over 20,000 documents stolen from the DNC network by the Russian hackers.
The leaked emails, which suggested the party’s leadership had tried to sabotage Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, prompted the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz before the party’s convention. The DNC’s chief executive, chief financial officer and communications officer later resigned in the wake of the controversy.
Earlier in the week, before the release of the indictment, Trump said he would “of course” raise the issue of Russian meddling in his meeting with Putin but he was not confident of achieving anything by doing so.
“What am I going to do? He may deny it,” Trump said during the NATO summit in Brussels. “All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ And, ‘Don’t do it again’. But he may deny it.”
He also said he still held out hopes of being friends with Putin.
“Somebody was saying, is he an enemy? He’s not my enemy. Is he your friend? No, I don’t know him very much,” Trump said. “Hopefully, someday, he’ll be a friend. It could happen.”
Matthew Knott is a federal politics reporter currently on sabbatical studying a Masters of Journalism at Columbia University in New York.
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