Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced charges Friday against 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking offenses during the 2016 election and pushed back on allegations that FBI agents are leaking details of the probe to reporters.
The indictments were announced Friday by the second highest-ranked Justice Department official as part of the ongoing special counsel probe into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The Russians are accused of hacking into the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, then releasing stolen emails on the Internet in the months before the election.
MORE: DOJ announces indictment of 12 twelve Russian nationals "for committing federal crimes that were intended to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election." https://t.co/BHK5srongc pic.twitter.com/Y3Wsodgoid
— ABC News (@ABC) July 13, 2018
“The Internet allows foreign adversaries to attack Americans in new and unexpected ways,” Rosenstein said. “Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide and conquer us.”
Before Friday, 20 people and three companies had been charged in the Mueller investigation. That includes four former Trump campaign and White House aides and 13 Russians accused of participating in a hidden but powerful social media campaign to sway American public opinion in the 2016 election.
Rosenstein, seemingly taking a veiled shot at both reporters and lawmakers critical of the Mueller investigation, denied the Justice Department has disseminated information about the Russia probe to the press.
“We do not try cases on television or in congressional hearings,” Rosenstein said. “Most anonymous leaks are not from the government officials who are actually conducting these investigations. We follow the rule of law, which means that we follow procedures and we reserve judgment.
“We complete our investigations and we evaluate all of the relevant evidence before we reach any conclusion. That is how the American people expect their Department of Justice to operate and that is how our department is going to operate.
“Our justice system, everyone how is charged with a crime, is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. It should go without saying that people who are not charged with a crime also are presumed innocent,” he added.
Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray faced House investigators in June over the Mueller investigation. A frustrated Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) told the Justice Department official that he wanted to see the probe to come to a close.
“We’ve seen the bias. We’ve seen the bias. We need to see the evidence,” Gowdy told the Deputy Attorney General. “If you have evidence of wrongdoing by any member of the Trump campaign, present it to the damn grand jury. If you have evidence that this president acted inappropriately, present it to the American people.
“There’s an old saying that ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ I think right now all of us are being denied,” added Gowdy. “Whatever you got, finish it the hell up — because this country is being torn apart.”
As previously reported, numerous FBI agents accused of leaking appear to have improperly received benefits from journalists, reflecting a “cultural attitude” skirting Bureau policies on unauthorized media contacts, the Justice Department Inspector General report concluded last month. A diagram in the report shows one journalist had contact with at least 18 FBI agents, administrators, and even high-ranking officials such as Deputy Assistant Directors.
The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General made the discovery as it struggled to identify possible FBI agents improperly transmitting to reporters, according to its report on the agency’s handling of the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s unsecured email server.
According to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, investigators had “profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review.”
“[W]e identified instances where FBI employees received tickets to sporting events from journalists, went on golfing outings with media representatives, were treated to drinks and meals after work by reporters, and were the guests of journalists at nonpublic social events,” the Justice Department watchdog official wrote. “We do not believe the problem is with the FBI’s policy, which we found to be clear and unambiguous. Rather, we concluded that these leaks highlight the need to change what appears to be a cultural attitude.”
Rosenstein, who said he had briefed President Donald Trump on the indictment, said there was no allegation that the hacking altered any vote count or that any Americans were knowingly in communication with any of the Russian officers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.