WASHINGTON (CN) – Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Friday that a dozen Russian military officers have been indicted in connection with interference in the 2016 presidential election and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
At a press conference shortly after noon Friday at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., Rosenstein announced that special counsel Robert Mueller has charged 12 Russians accused of "spear phishing" hacking the DNC to sabotage the 2016 election.
According to the indictment, Directorate of the General Staff, or GRU, officers "knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other, and with persons known and unknown to the grand jury...to gain unauthorized access... 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 new charges are the latest in the investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, and they come just three days before President Donald Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
The president has consistently railed against Mueller's investigation, dubbing it a "witch hunt" and calling into question the impartiality of the investigators on Mueller's team.
Trump has also questioned the conclusions drawn by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was responsible for the hacking, and said more than once that he believes Putin's denials of any such meddling.
But Harry Sandick, a white collar defense attorney with Patterson Belknap, said Friday’s indictment refutes any criticism of Mueller's investigation.
"Regardless of whether Trump was involved in the conspiracy, or whether people in his campaign were involved in the conspiracy, it's impossible to view this work by the special counsel as a witch hunt," Sandick said in a phone interview.
"Anyone who reads today's charges would be hard pressed to deny the legitimacy or seriousness of the Mueller investigation," he added.
The 29-page indictment says that beginning in March 2016, the Russian intelligence officers hacked into the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and DNC networks, as well as employees of Hillary Clinton's campaign, including campaign chairman John Podesta.
"The conspirators covertly monitored the computers of dozens of DCCC and DNC employees, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code...and stole emails and other documents from the DCCC and DNC," the indictment states.
In June 2016, they allegedly used fictitious online personas - DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 - to begin releasing the stolen material.
"The defendants falsely claimed that DCLeaks was a group of American actors and that Guccifer 2.0 was a young Romanian hacker. In fact both were created, or controlled, by the Russian GRU," Rosenstein said during his press conference Friday.
The indictment says the alleged conspirators also used the Guccifer 2.0 persona to release other stolen documents, which were posted on a website maintained by an entity referred to only as "Organization 1" in the indictment.
According to Rosenstein, the hackers used Organization 1 as a "pass through" to publicly release the stolen materials.
"They discussed the timing of the release in an attempt to enhance the impact on the election,” he said.
National security attorney Mark Zaid said Organization 1 could be Wikileaks, though Wikileaks is not named in the indictment and has not been charged with any crimes related to the 2016 election.