Russia Indictments: White House Focuses on Defending Trump Campaign

The White House reacted Friday to the Justice Department's announcement of a dozen indictments of Russian military intelligence operatives for hacking into U.S. computer systems and stealing identities in an effort to interfere with the 2016 election by pointing out that no one in the Trump campaign was directly implicated.

The indictments are the latest in special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into Russian hacking.

"The Internet allows foreign adversaries to attack America in new and unexpected ways,” said deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein in a statement. “Together with our law enforcement partners, the Department of Justice is resolute in its commitment to locate, identify and seek to bring to justice anyone who interferes with American elections.

"Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious, and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide and conquer us," Rosenstein added. "So long as we are united in our commitment to the shared values enshrined in the Constitution, they will not succeed.”

But the White House was accentuating the positive.

"Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result," said White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters. "This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.

“There is no allegation in this indictment that Americans knew that they were corresponding with Russians," Walters added. "There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime. There is no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result.”

At press time there was also no statement about the underlying evidence of the coordinated Russian effort.

The president has been calling the Russia investigation a "witch hunt."

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Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating Russian election interference, said the president should stop calling the investigation a witch hunt and cancel his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin or at least have someone else in the room rather than conduct a private meeting.

The 11-count indictment includes one count of "criminal conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States through cyber operations ... that involved the staged release of stolen documents for the purpose of interfering with the 2016 president election"; eight counts of "aggravated identity theft..."; one count of conspiracy to launder money; and one count of "conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States by attempting to hack into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state and U.S. companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of elections."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was on the same page as the Justice Department if not the White House. "I remain committed to exposing Russian efforts to use social media and other mechanisms to orchestrate chaos in our political discourse," said Rubio. "Today’s indictments clearly demonstrates that this is not a partisan issue, and we must begin to take concrete steps to deter foreign governments from interfering in our political dialogue and dividing us as a nation against each other.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.