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Government Charges 12 Russian Officers With Election Attack


The Justice Department says it has identified the culprits who hacked into Democrats' emails in 2016. A grand jury has charged 12 members of the Russian intelligence service with conspiracy and other crimes. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment.


ROD ROSENSTEIN: Units engaged in active cyber operations to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

MONTAGNE: Here to share more details from Friday's announcement and the ongoing case is NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: The details from these indictments are impressive and fascinating, actually. How were authorities here in the U.S. able to find the individual Russians who allegedly carried out these hacks?

JOHNSON: The court papers don't go into sources and methods, but in other cases, the Justice Department and the FBI have gotten pretty sophisticated about tracing hacks to specific computers and specific people at the keyboards, even if they're overseas. That's what happened here. The Justice Department named 12 people in the Russian intelligence directorate. They're accused of conspiracy to steal information from the Democratic National Committee in Hillary Clinton's campaign and then sharing it online. The charges say they tricked people into sharing their passwords to break into computers or installed software to capture keystrokes. They created phony names and accounts to share the information. And the Justice Department says the goal was to tamper with the presidential election, and they timed their releases to do maximum damage.

MONTAGNE: And all the people charged in this case or this group of charges are in Russia - what about the Americans who may have received some of these stolen emails?

JOHNSON: The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says there's no allegation in these charges that people in the U.S. knew they were communicating with Russians. The court papers do describe an unnamed congressional candidate who asked for some stolen emails. And the indictment also mentions a person close to members of Donald Trump's campaign. That's Roger Stone. He's acknowledged corresponding with hackers, but he says those contacts were benign. Renee, there's really one big jarring detail in these documents. They say the Russians allegedly tried to break into computer servers tied to Hillary Clinton in July 2016, the same day that candidate Donald Trump said, Russia, if you're listening, I hope you can find those 30,000 missing Hillary Clinton emails.

MONTAGNE: So, of course, could be a coincidence, but this is a touchy subject. President Trump is preparing to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. What's he or the White House saying about this indictment?

JOHNSON: Sure, President Trump tweeted this morning that this hacking happened during the Obama presidency - why didn't he do anything about it?

MONTAGNE: Has a point, though.

JOHNSON: Yeah. And earlier, a White House spokesman pointed out that there are no allegations these hacking - this hacking misbehavior changed the results of the 2016 election. Now, President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also took to Twitter. He said this is good news. The Russians have been nailed. This means it's time to wrap up the special counsel investigation. Well, that investigation is continuing for now. No sense of when or if it might end anytime soon.

MONTAGNE: From your reporting, Carrie, is there a message the Justice Department and the intelligence community want to deliver that goes beyond this indictment? I mean, there seems to be right within the way it was announced. What are they saying?

JOHNSON: You know, this was so interesting - the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who's kind of a just-the-facts guy, took a moment at the press conference yesterday to say, people need to set aside their partisanship, set aside their Democrat or Republican identities, come together to face this adversary that's attacking American elections and American democracy. And the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, was even stronger yesterday. In a remark at a think tank, Dan Coats said Russia has been targeting the U.S. with cyberattacks for a long time. He says the warning lights are blinking red. He says it's time for Americans to harden their defenses to cyberattacks right now, before it's too late.

MONTAGNE: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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