US special counsel charges 13 Russian nationals with interfering in 2016 election

Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein detailed the charges in a press conference today

US special counsel charges 13 Russian nationals with interfering in 2016 election

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks to the media with an announcement that the office of special counsel Robert Mueller says a grand jury has charged 13 Russian nationals and several Russian entities. Picture by: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Press Association Images

13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies have been charged with interfering in the 2016 presidential election and political processes.

US justice officials have claimed some of the defendants used bogus social media postings and adverts to sway political opinion.

It comes as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling during the 2016 election campaign.

The defendants are accused of conducting 'information warfare' against the US.

12 of those charged worked at some point with a company called the Internet Research Agency, while a 13th individual is accused of 'funding the conspiracy'.

The Internet Research Agency is an organisation based in St Petersburg, and has been widely described as a so-called 'troll farm'.

In the indictment, Mr Mueller said: "The conspiracy had as its object impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with US political and electoral processes, including the 2016 US presidential election."

According to the indictment, defendants are accused of posing as US citizens and created 'false US personas', and operating social media pages designed to attract US audiences.

They are also accused of using the stolen identities of real US citizens to post online.

Some of the defendants are accused of communicating with people associated with Donald Trump's campaign team, although the Justice Department stressed there is no allegation that any Americans had any knowledge of the scheme.

Two of the defendants are alleged to have traveled to the US 'under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence'.

Defendants and their 'co-conspirators' are also accused of purchasing and posting advertisements.

Image: US Department of Justice

In a press conference, US deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein alleged: "The Russians recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies.

"The defendants and co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. The Americans did not know they were communicating with Russians."

He added: "There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge altered the outcome of the 2016 election.

"This indictment serves as a reminder that people are not always who they appear to be. The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed."

Mr Rosenstein added that there will be no comment from the special counsel 'at this time'.