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Mueller Indictment: Russians Manipulated Social Media, Advertising and Political Rallies to Impact 2016 Election

Robert Mueller’s office released 37 page  indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three Russian organizations for interference in the 2016 Presidential election.  According to Mueller’s office, a Russian organization based in St. Petersburg known as the Internet Research Agency used fake American social media profiles sometimes posing as political activists to wage "information warfare," interfering with and manipulating the US election process. 

According to today's indictment, these activities began as early as 2014, with certain defendants traveling to the United States and obtaining VPN infrastructure, to obscure the origins of their activities so various accounts would appear to be based within the United States.  Alleged activities included purchasing online advertisements--and stealing identities to do so.  Moving offline the defendants and their co-conspirators solicited individuals to disparage or promote candidates, including hiring a woman to wear a costume portraying Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform at various political events, all while hiding their Russian identities. 

These activities were done without proper regulatory disclosure and without registering as foreign entities.  Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who announced the indictment stated: "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."

DNC Chair Tom Perez released a statement, saying, "This indictment gives us a chilling look at just how sophisticated, well-funded and wide-ranging this attack on our democracy really was. It should send chills up the spine of every American."   Perez points to the indictment as proof that the 2016 election was marred by Russian interference; including hacking into the DNC by Russian operatives as well as hacking into voter registration systems across the country, along with the now ubiquitous understanding of the Russian presence on social media and their attempts to foster disagreement and manufacture intense contention among already disagreeing Americans online. 

Additionally, Perez points to Trump's failure to act on the information presented by Mueller, referencing Trump's attempts to diminish and discredit the Mueller investigation and his failure to direct intelligence officials to take action to prevent future attacks.   Perez:

"President Trump continues to deny these facts.  And Republican in Congress continues to spread falsehoods to tarnish the very investigation that is beginning to hold Russia accountable for its actions in 2016. If the president won't uphold the oath he took to protect our nation's security, he has no place in the Oval Office. And if Republican leaders in Congress can't put the interests of our democracy before politics, they have no place in Congress.”

On the other side of the aisle, Kayleigh McEnany, an RNC spokesperson read the indictment to indicate that Russian interference was two-sided, with President-elect Trump also in the Russian cross-hairs.  She points specifically to rallies funded by Russian Roubles on November 12th and 19th of 2016, in the days following the election.   In an appearance on Fox News, she indicated that it was the Democrats who had deceived the country by emphasizing the Russian election interference.  She said, "Democrats deceived this country...and they were caught today."

In a tweet today, president Trump stated that there was a lack of allegations in today's indictment of any impact on the 2016 presidential election and highlighted his campaign’s lack of involvement.

Trump Tweet  Russian Election Indictment

However, a holistic reading of the indictment supports claims that Russian interference did appear to impact the 2016 election. The indictment offers a timeline of the defendant’s conspiracy that had a clear purpose: “impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.”

You can read the indictment here.

For more on Election Legal issues, check out our Legislative, Election, Lobbying, Campaign Finance and Voting Law News.

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Eilene Spear legal news editor and writer at the National Law Review
Operations Project Manager & Lead Writer

Eilene Spear is the Operations and Projects Manager for the National Law Review.  She edits and formats author profiles, legal news content and legal event listings from prominent law firms who publish on the NLR website.

As Lead Writer, Eilene writes extensively on a variety of legal topics; including legal marketing topics, interviews with top legal marketing professionals and the newest trends in legal marketing.  Additionally, Eilene writes on issues affecting the legal industry, such as women attorneys and the challenges they face, along...

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