TEL AVIV — Far from building the case for collusion, the indictment of Russian nationals and entities for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections documents a narrative that is far different from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign knowingly conspiring with Russia.
The indictment was announced Friday by the Justice Department’s special counsel. The 37-page indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities charges that the Russians stole the identities of U.S. persons to deceptively “communicate with unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump campaign involved in local community outreach.”
Specifically, the Russian nationals allegedly impersonated American grassroots activists to distribute pro-Trump material and communicate with “Trump campaign staff” involved in local community outreach for “Florida Goes Trump” grassroots rallies.
The indictment does not once mention the word “collusion.”
The indictment, reviewed in full by this reporter, cites only two instances of the Russians communicating directly with members of the Trump campaign, and both cases involved impersonating Americans. The Russians allegedly utilized a fake Gmail account impersonating an American to contact two Trump campaign workers involved in the campaign’s Florida operations.
In other words, the cited instances of alleged communication with Russian agents consisted of Russians pretending to be Americans interested in helping locally, a far cry from the wild claims that the Trump campaign willingly worked with Russia to steal an election.
The indictment names an entity calling itself the Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, as serving as the main headquarters for allegedly disseminating political propaganda designed to influence domestic U.S. issues.
The Russians are accused of using the stolen identities of real U.S. citizens, including social security numbers, to interface with U.S. political groups and impersonate grassroots activists online. They are accused of forming social media groups dedicated to topics such as Black Lives Matter, immigration and religion, and creating online groups titled, “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus,” among others.
Besides supporting Trump, the alleged Russian campaign also supported Bernie Sanders in online posts.
According to the indictment, the alleged Russian campaign began as early as 2013, about two years before Trump officially announced his candidacy.
The indictment claims that in or around May 2014 – still prior to Trump’s June 16, 2015 speech announcing his candidacy—the organization’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of “spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”
Starting in February 2016, Internet Research Agency workers were told whom to support, with the indictment quoting a directive to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them.)”
The agenda seems to have been to sow discord and not simply to support one candidate. The indictment shows that after the election, the alleged Russian operation began engaging in anti-Trump activism, including using false U.S. personas to organize “Trump is not my President” rallies.
Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein labeled the indictment “a reminder that people are not always who they appear on the Internet. The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote social discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed.”
Previously, former FBI Director James B. Comey testified about why the intelligence community purportedly believed that Russia favored Trump for U.S. president over Hillary Clinton.
Comey confirmed that the basis for the Obama administration-era intelligence community’s assessment claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly wanted Trump in office was not because the billionaire was, as Sen. Al Franken claimed without citing any evidence, “ensnared in” Russia’s “web of patronage.”
Instead, the FBI chief provided two primary reasons for Russia allegedly favoring Trump over Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.
One reason, according to Comey, was that Putin “hated” Clinton and would have favored any Republican opponent. The second reason, Comey explained, was that Putin made an assessment that it would be easier to make a deal with a businessman than someone from the political class.
Comey’s statements provided a rare window into the intelligence community’s assessments about Russia and Trump. The comments are a far cry from the conspiracies alleging Putin held blackmail information over the billionaire. In fact, in the exchange, which took place during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI oversight last May, Comey refused to lend any weight to those claims. Those conspiracies were fueled by the infamous, largely-discredited 35-page dossier alleging collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.