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US special counsel indicts 13 members of Russia's election meddling troll farm

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office said Friday that a grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities accused of election meddling.

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Shutterstock / Evan El-Amin

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office said Friday that a grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities accused of violating federal laws in order to interfere with US elections and political processes during the 2016 presidential race.

The indictment says that the defendants, by early to mid-2016, were "supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump ... and disparaging Hillary Clinton."

The indictment goes on to state that Russians posted "derogatory information about a number of candidates" and by mid-2016, they supported Trump and disparaged Clinton. They bought ads and communicated with "unwitting" people tied to Trump campaign and others to coordinate political activities.

More specifically, the Russians allegedly used false US personas to communicate with unsuspecting members and supporters of the Trump campaign involved in local outreach and grassroots groups that supported Trump. In turn, Trump supporters distributed the Russian material through social media and other means.

Russians were also pushing attacks on GOP candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz during the primary race, while trying to promote Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a press conference the defendants allegedly created hundreds of accounts using fake personas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Russia-backed Internet Research Agency LLC was also accused of seeking, in part, "to conduct what it called 'information warfare against the United States of America' through fictitious US personas on social media platforms and other Internet-based media."

"By in or around May 2014, the organization's strategy included interfering with the 2016 US presidential election, with the stated goal of "spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general," the indictment said.

All the defendants have been accused of conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and five defendants are charged with aggravated identity theft.

"The special counsel's investigation is ongoing," Rosenstein said.

Read more: Security experts warn lawmakers of election hacking risks | Dutch spies tipped off NSA that Russia was hacking the Democrats | Former FBI director Comey: Russian hackers launched hundreds of attacks to influence election | US officially accuses Russia of political cyber attacks | More: Four things we learned when Facebook, Google, Twitter testified in Russia inquiry | Google: Russian groups did use our ads and YouTube to influence 2016 elections | Twitter says 50,000 Russia-linked accounts tweeted during presidential election | Video: Twitter wants you to know if you've interacted with a Russia-linked account | Long read: Beyond Kaspersky: How a digital Cold War with Russia threatens the IT industry