Russia politics: Quick View - US Department of Justice indicts 13 Russians
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- Economist Intelligence Unit
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Following evidence provided by its special counsel, Robert Mueller, the US Department of Justice issued indictments for 13 Russians and three companies accused of committing fraud against the US government through interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
The indictments are centred on a Russian organisation, the Internet Research Agency, employees of which created hundreds of social media accounts that, in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, pushed content supportive of Donald Trump, the winning Republican candidate, and critical of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Russians living in the US were also alleged to have contributed to these efforts, co-ordinating with "unwitting" members of the Trump campaign to stage rallies. They also pushed allegations that the Democrats were committing voter fraud. The indictments did not suggest that these actions had swung the election for Mr Trump.
The indictments will not lead to trials, as the suspects are now situated in Russia, a country that does not extradite its citizens to the US. Nor do they explicitly place blame on the Russian government, even if the Kremlin is widely believed to have funded and directed these efforts. However, the charges have several positive consequences for the justice department: first, they reaffirm that there was Russian interference in the election, despite regular denials by Mr Trump; second, they confirm to the US administration the extent and quality of Mr Mueller's work; and, consequently, third, they make sacking Mr Mueller more difficult.
The Mueller investigation remains multi-pronged. Work is continuing on the hacking of Democratic emails and the circumstances surrounding Mr Trump's sacking of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director, James Comey. Mr Mueller is keen to interview Mr Trump to discuss the sacking-a prospect that makes Mr Trump's lawyers extremely uncomfortable. More encouraging for Mr Trump is that the indictments did not disclose any evidence that his campaign was aware of the Russians' actions, much less that there was any collusion involved.
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