Russian agents ‘targeted’ Iowa during 2016 election, according to new indictment

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Photo by Zak Neumann

On Friday, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced an indictment against 12 Russian military intelligence agents for hacking the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2016 presidential election.

The 11-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy against the United States, money laundering, as well as attempts to hack the computer systems of state election boards and other government agencies. Iowa is one of the states listed in the indictment.

In or around October 2016, [Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev] and his co-conspirators further targeted state and county offices responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. elections. For example, on or about October 28, 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators visited the websites of certain counties in Georgia, Iowa, and Florida to identify vulnerabilities.

The indictment does not specify which Iowa counties were targeted.

In September 2017, Iowa was one of 21 states contacted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), because the department believed the state’s election system may have been hacked by Russian state operatives. In response to questions about the DHS inquiry, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate told the media that Iowa had not been affected.

“On a regular basis, we have bad actors who attempt to breach our system. Hundreds of thousands every single day … and we deflect them so that they are not successful,” Pate stated. “To be a hacker, they have to actually get into the system. We have not been hacked. The Russians have not hacked us.”

In response to today’s indictments, the White House issued a statement: “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, This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”

Although the indictments did not include any charges related to collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian intelligence, it did contain information indicating how eager the Russians were to assist Trump.

During a campaign appearance in Florida on July 27, 2016, then-candidate Trump said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing. I think that you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press.”

According to the indictment:

The conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton campaign through the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement denying anyone employed by the Russian government was involved in hacking the 2016 election. “It is regrettable that the circulation of false information in Washington has become the norm, and that criminal cases are brought for obvious political reasons,” the statement said. According to the ministry, “obviously, the purpose of this is to spoil the atmosphere” for Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Hours before Rosenstein’s announcement, Trump was asked during a press conference in the United Kingdom if he would raise the issue of Russian interference in his meeting with Putin.

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“I will absolutely, firmly ask the question,” Trump said. He added, “I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee, I did it, I did it, you got me.”’

Trump was informed by Rosenstein about today’s indictments prior to leaving for Europe, The Washington Post reported on Friday. Despite this, during his U.K. press conference, Trump called the probe into Russian election interference a “rigged witch hunt” that “really hurts our country and really hurts our relationship with Russia.”

Last week CNN reported that Trump “plans to meet one-on-one with Vladimir Putin at the start of their July 16 summit in Helsinki, Finland, according to a person familiar with the plans, before allowing other aides to join the highly anticipated encounter with the Russian leader.”

During a July 2017 meeting of the G-20 nations in Hamburg, Germany, Trump had an unannounced three-hour private meeting with Putin with no aides present. Trump and Putin also had two brief private meetings during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam in in November.

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