Mueller indicts 16 Russian entities in connection with US election meddling, hits Manafort with additional charges

UPDATE 2 — 2/23, 3:54 p.m. EST: Trump campaign associate Rick Gates plead guilty Friday to two felony counts of lying to federal investigators and conspiracy after reaching a deal with prosecutors which had been negotiated since the end of the January.  Gates still could be sentenced to up to six years imprisonment.

Gates and former campaign manager Paul Manafort were hit with an additional 32 fraud and tax evasion charges by federal authorities Thursday following the discovery of over $30 million in overseas income that went unreported to the IRS.

In addition, Manafort allegedly falsified income statements to a bank from which he secured a mortgage for his Virginia home, while both Manafort and Gates engaged in a scheme to hide income from (U.S.) authorities, while enjoying the use of the money,” according to the indictment.

 

UPDATE — 2/20, 5:44 p.m. EST: Lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan plead guilty Tuesday afternoon to making false statements to Robert Mueller’s investigative team after a criminal information document was issued Friday.

Van Der Zwaan, who is married to the daughter of Russian billionaire German Khan, admits to misleading the DOJ’s special counsel regarding prior contact with Manafort associate Rick Gates. 

Formerly of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, a law firm which did consulting work for the Ukrainian government under former President Viktor Yanukovych, Van Der Zwaan recorded a September 2016 conversation with Gates, along with another person of interest, which he failed to disclose to authorities.  Prosecutors have also charged Van Der Zwaan with attempting to destroy emails relative to the case.

 

In one fell swoop Friday, a grand jury impaneled by the Justice Department’s special counsel probing Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election indicted 13 Russian businessmen and three firms.

An eight-count indictment, the charges include conspiracy to defraud, wire fraud and bank fraud.

Authorities contend Russian businessman and restaurateur Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin funded the conspiracy through a myriad of firms and shell companies, as part of a larger racket called Project Lakhta.

The indictments allege 12 of those charged worked with Saint Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency LLC, a firm with connections to Prigozhin which is heavily engaged in social media campaigns.

It is believed the Russian firms operated on budgets in the millions and at one time employed hundreds of individuals.

The indictments handed down on Friday suggest widespread efforts by the Russians to use social media platforms to malign 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in favor of her primary challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Similarly, the indictments declare Russian efforts to influence the election also targeted Donald Trump primary foes, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

The charges further allege the Russians attempted to create or use stolen U.S. identities, fraudulent bank accounts and fake identification cards to manipulate the election, as well as recruit Americans and pay them to take part in political activities.

According to the indictments, the 16 named had a strategic goal to “sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

Addressing the media, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters the indictments outline a campaign of “information warfare,” but the charges made clear no American knowingly took part in the scheme.

Rosenstein also stated the charges of wrongdoing do not in any way suggest Russian meddling altered the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The response from President Trump was swift, as he immediately declared the indictments cleared the White House and his campaign from charges of collusion.

Following his tweet, a statement released by the White House read:

“We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”

The Kremlin, too, weighed in in response to Mueller’s indictments, with Andrei Kutskikh, telling RAI Novosti: “There are no official claims, there are no proofs for this. That’s why they are just children’s statements.”

While Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected the indictments as “just blabber,” earlier in the week, ranking House intelligence committee Democrat, Adam Schiff, said that Congress’ investigation into the matter has found “an abundance of non-public information that . . . is evidence on the issue of collusion and some . . . on the issue of obstruction.”

Schiff added that evidence of money laundering by Trump associates has also been seen and the allegations “are credible enough that we ought to, in the exercise of due diligence, see if this was one of the other vectors of the Russian active measures campaign.”

 

[Roll Call] [Reuters] [Wall Street Journal] [AP via Global News] [The Guardian] [Wall Street Journal] [NBC News] [Bloomberg] [Washington Post/YouTube] [Photo courtesy Yahoo]