Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team announced the indictments on Friday of a dozen Russian intelligence officers as part of the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“The object of the conspiracy was to hack into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the indictment states.
Mueller’s investigation was launched in May 2017, with a primary focus on allegations that members of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team colluded with Russian interests.
The indictments announced Friday were not directly related to Mueller’s reason for being — but did involve the Russians’ involvement in hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computer network.
The Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), a military intelligence agency for Russia, is cited in the indictment as the main group behind the “large-scale cyber operations” during the election. The GRU has multiple units operating in the United States, which staged releases of documents that were stolen from computers.
John Podesta, campaign chairman for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, was an early target of the hackers, who in March 2016 used misleading emails to get his login information, a technique known as spearphishing. The hackers then stole over 50,000 emails from his account, many of which Wikileaks made public.
The leaked emails sparked hundreds of stories during the campaign that might have influenced how people voted. The Mueller probe was launched in early 2017, but it’s been plagued by a fierce political fight over his legitimacy.
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The indictment also says the hackers went after other Democratic targets, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. No Americans were among those indicted.