Mueller Indictments Shed Light On Special Counsel’s Progress and Direction

Angel LasleyCitation Editor, University of Cincinnati Law Review

“When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans.” – Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein

Mueller
Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III

For the past several months, shouting matches, personal attacks, and turmoil have ensued over the federal investigation into whether the Donald Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

On Friday, July 13, 2018, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, as part of the investigation, issued a criminal indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers. Most of the officers charged in Friday’s indictment were members of the Russian military intelligence agency, formerly known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff or G.R.U.[1] This marks the first time Mueller has directly accused the Russian government of a prolonged effort to hack the information security of Democratic targets.

The 11-count, 29-page indictment details a “large-scale cyber operation” aimed at discrediting and unfavorably contrasting Hillary Clinton.[2] The indictment alleges that, starting in March 2016, the Russian officers began hacking the computers of persons and entities involved in the election, including volunteers and employees of the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee.[3] After accessing the computer networks, the officers monitored the computers, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious malware, and stored emails and other documents.[4] It is further alleged that, in or around June 2016, the officers “staged and released tens of thousands of the stolen emails and documents” through the use of fictitious online personas.[5] Collectively, these actions resulted in charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud (in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(2)(C), 1030(a)(5)(A), 1030(c)(2)(B), and 1030(c)(4)(B)); conspiracy to launder money (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(A)); and conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371).

With the July 13th indictment, Special Counsel Mueller has filed charges against 32 people with respect to the federal investigation into interference in the 2016 presidential election. Of those charged, 26 are Russian nationals. In many ways, the indictment may be merely symbolic. The Russian defendants are at large, and Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. As such, the indicted officers are unlikely to ever be arrested and brought to trial. However, Friday’s indictment is the most detailed accusation to date of Russian interference in the election. Given the level of detail, the indictment will likely serve as a deterrent to future threats against the United States government.

The indictment further serves as a solid foundation for subsequent indictments against any American conspirators. The indictment states that the Russian officers “communicated with U.S. persons about the release of stolen documents.”[6] Specifically, the officers “wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.”[7] However, the unnamed U.S. persons have not been charged with a crime. In fact, the indictment contained no accusations that the U.S. persons were “knowing participant[s] in the alleged unlawful activity or knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers.”[8] Nonetheless, Friday’s indictment exposes the Trump campaign itself, as well as its senior members, to potential criminal liability.

 

[1] Indict. ¶ 1.

[2] Id.

[3] Id. at ¶ 2-4.

[4] Id. at ¶ 4.

[5] Id. at ¶ 6.

[6] Id. at ¶ 44.

[7] Id. The person was subsequently identified as Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser to President Trump. However, Stone maintains that any contact with the false personas was benign, based on its content, context, and timing.

[8] Grand Jury Indicts 12 Russian Intelligence Officers for Hacking Offenses Related to the 2016 Election, Department of Justice (2018), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/grand-jury-indicts-12-russian-intelligence-officers-hacking-offenses-related-2016-election (last visited Jul. 19, 2018).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s