The special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election announced charges Friday against a Russian social media troll company, 12 of its employees and its financial backer in the first indictment brought against Russians allegedly involved in the effort.
The indictment, handed down by a federal grand jury in Washington, alleges that the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based company with ties to the Kremlin, orchestrated an audacious campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of President Donald Trump.
Prosecutors also charged the Internet Research Agency’s alleged financier, Russian businessman Yevgeniy Prigozhin, and two companies he controls.
The indictment says Prigozhin and his businesses provided “significant funds” for the Internet Research Agency’s operations to disrupt the U.S. elections.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that the Russian conspirators sought to “promote social discord in the United State and undermine public confidence in democracy.”
“We must not allow them to succeed,” Rosenstein said at a press conference in Washington.
The conspiracy was part of a larger operation code-named Project Lakhta, Rosenstein said.
“Project Lakhta included multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in multiple countries,” Rosenstein said.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has made no public statements since his appointment last May, did not speak at the press conference.
WATCH: 13 Russians Indicted in Mueller Probe
?Charges against Russian nationals
The indictment charges all the defendants with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and five individuals with aggravated identity theft.
None of the defendants charged in the indictment are in custody, according to a spokesman for the special counsel’s office.
The U.S. and Russia don’t have an extradition treaty, and it’s unlikely that any of the defendants will stand trial in the U.S.
The indictment provides a detailed account of Russia’s “influence operations” during the elections and alleges that the Russian conspirators sought to coordinate their effort with Trump campaign associates.
Trump took to Twitter after the indictment was announced to again deny his campaign worked with the Russians.
Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018
The indictment marks the first charges brought against Russian nationals in connection with Mueller’s probe.
Mueller’s sprawling investigation has led to the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates.
Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russian officials.
?Details of the indictment
The indictment says the Russian campaign to “interfere in U.S. elections and U.S. political system” started as early as 2014 and accelerated as the 2016 election campaign got underway.
The indictment details how early during the 2016 campaign, the Russian operatives posted “derogatory information” about a number of presidential candidates. But by early to mid-2016, the operation began supporting Trump’s presidential campaign and disparaging Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Taking on fake American identities, the Russian operatives communicated with unwitting Trump campaign associates and with other political activists “to seek to coordinate political activities,” the indictment says.
The indictment describes how Russian operatives used subterfuge, stolen identities and other methods to stage political rallies, buy ads on social media platforms, and pay gullible Americans to “promote or disparage candidates.”
To avoid detection by U.S. law enforcement agencies, the Russian operatives used computer networks based in the United States, according to the indictment.
“These groups and pages, which addressed the divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by defendants,” the indictment reads.
A number of the operatives are alleged to have traveled to the United States under “false pretenses to collect intelligence to inform the influence operations.”
WATCH: Entire briefing by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein