A federal grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Additionally, three defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft. The charges are the first in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference with the election and are outlined in a 37-page indictment filed in United States District Court.

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Mueller said that the 13 individuals have conspired since 2014 to violate laws that prohibit foreigners from spending money to influence federal elections in the United States.

The indictment charges that the foreigners falsely posed as American citizens, stole identities and otherwise engaged in fraud and deceit in an effort to influence the U.S. political process, including the 2016 presidential race. …

The Internet Research Agency, operating out of St. Petersburg, was described in the indictment as a hub for a sophisticated operation designed to reach millions of Americans to disrupt the political process in the United States. Its annual budget was millions of dollars; its stated goal was to “spread distrust toward the candidates and the political system in general.”

“The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,” Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing Mueller’s inquiry, said at a news conference Friday.

“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said, adding that “there is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

However, Richard Pinedo, a California resident, has pleaded guilty to identity fraud as part of Mueller’s probe. Newsweek continues:

Pinedo, of Santa Paula, ran an online service called Auction Essistance, through which he bought and sold bank account numbers that would help users circumvent security measures of digital payment companies. Pinedo [transferred], possessed and used the identities of other people in connection with unlawful activity, according to a statement of the offense. He pleaded guilty on February 12, according to court documents.

Pinedo faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the plea agreement. It said he has no criminal history and that he agrees to cooperate with Mueller’s office.

Truthdig columnist Bill Blum speaks to the significance of the indictments:

“Any way you slice it, this is huge. It can no longer be argued that there is no ‘there there’ when it comes to Russiagate. The Justice Department, under the direction of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, believes it can prove in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt that there was indeed a vast Russian conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 election.

The purpose of the conspiracy, according to the indictment, was to “sow discord in the U.S. political system” through a variety of means, including, but not limited to, the creation and use of false and stolen social media accounts. Although such efforts date back to 2014, the indictment charges that they eventually concentrated on the 2016 election and were directed to help the Trump campaign and disparage the Clinton campaign. Ironically, this confirms some of the central allegations of the much-maligned Steele dossier.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that as explosive as this indictment is, it does not allege that any American, including members of the Trump team, wittingly joined the conspiracy. It is also important to note that the indictment does not allege that Russian meddling affected the outcome of the election.

Still another takeaway from the announcement of the indictment—one that all observers on the right and left should take to heart—is that Mueller and his team are light years ahead of the rest of us in their understanding of Russian election interference. Mueller isn’t playing to cable news—not to MSNBC, not to Fox, not to RT. The probe is real and ongoing, and from what I can tell, it is just hitting its stride.

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