Special counsel announces indictment against Russian nationals

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictments, saying the defendants communicated with "unwitting" Trump campaign officials.
3:00 | 02/16/18

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Transcript for Special counsel announces indictment against Russian nationals
Hey everyone I'm in Abbas here in New York continuing coverage now breaking news this Friday afternoon in new indictment handed down from the department. Of justice and specifically. Special counsel Robert Muller's investigative team now needing thirteen Russian individuals and two Russian companies as having sought. To act actually implement this court. Leading up to the 2016. Presidential election in capped out across the entire political system is wealth and indictment that just came down and we're going through them as we speak but let me bring in my colleague done in Washington DC Mary Alice parks who is going through these documents. With us right now Mary Alice this is something that the president of mall called a witch hunt. And has basically sought to delegitimize that during the course of the last nine months of the investigation but. These are more details that are coming out now what kind of impact does this gonna. On the conversation there. It's gonna change the conversation entirely the president will no longer be able to call this a hoax or a witch hunt. This amounts to the United States government plainly saying that Russia attacked ass. No longer will this president to be able to two dots and less he wants to go. Absolute odds and an end to wracked war in conflict with his own cabinet and his own apartment. Let's bring in Pierre Thomas our Chief Justice correspondent and Pierre out we are off the field going through the deet tails. Of the indictment but what stands out to you with the most significant. Coming out of these documents right now. The most significant thing here is that this shows the breath and the scope of what the Russians. Were up to this is a completely new avenue of investigation. That Mueller unveiled today if you will it talks about Russians actually coming to United States. Engaging in a Covert social media campaign to sow discord in our national politics if you will. Aimed at helping Donald Trump then candidate Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton it. Talks about employing hundreds of people spending millions of dollars to do so. That is what jumps out at this indictment now he. It's very clear that it does not make any. Allegations regarding collusion between specific members of the of the top campaign in associates and Russians in this particular indictment. But it lays out the get a very sophisticated campaign and on that front of whether there was collusion not that investigation remains very much underway. Thomas liked there in RTE hero over an attic that you make our chief White House correspondent Cecilia want to ask you about went aircraft. In particular on page four they talk about the count campaign there but the link which used there says that the people these Russians to acting as US persons. Communicated with unwitting individuals. We at the at trump campaign people working for and wheat the trump campaign. Does that that the campaign off the hook. Well I I think it will certainly spin it that way absolutely but geared to meet air to headlines that come out of this paragraph there is. Confirmation. From. Rob rose Stein that indeed the Russians had contact with people in the trump orbit the leading up to you and her surrounding. The election of 2016. That president trump himself had told me I asked him at one of his very first press conferences after he was elected had anybody in your circle had any contact with. Anyone related to Russia and he's at no. Absolutely not so we now know that is not to be true. But the heat were the operative word that the trump administration will hang on to no doubt is the word on the waiting. And certainly presents and there at press conference it very clear no allegation that this altered the election no allegation that any American had. He knowledge of what was happening here. But I've got to saying and you notice that we've talked about this before. President trump has been all over the cap on whether he believes rush. Indeed metal in our election in 2016. He said at one point it could be rush it could be other countries he's called. The Russian allegations a hoax made up. By the Democrats as justification for their loss in 2016. He has come around to eventually ultimately concluding that Russia did indeed Madeleine. Kellyanne Conway his counselor to the president just a couple of days ago said as much on television. But no longer can this administration. Take a backseat to Russian election meddling. His intelligence community has said says and seeing as much for months they just that is much on Capitol Hill a couple of days ago. And they also said that there's been no directive from this administration. To really tackle in do anything about it so. They can no longer hide behind in action. I think this proves that they will have to do something and I certainly expect that resounding calls on capitol Hilton to start if they have not already. Our senior White House correspondent you'd be alive or if indeed he there thinks that area. I want to bring in now former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie also in ABC news contributor former prosecutor. As well Governor Christie thanks for making the time I want to ask you about another specific part. Of this indictment that talks about them the candidate that he's the Russian entities were targeting they started actors earliest when he fourteen but later seemed to focus in. On hurting Hillary Clinton had crews and Marco Rubio and supporting Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump that had to inevitably. Have helped the candidates Donald Trump is that's. What. See really what it tells you is that they were intent on hurting Hillary Clinton. Because they were not only helping trump what they were helping Sanders early on. And as senator Sanders whose Hillary Clinton's primary point there's no question that that's what they were attempting to do you know what the impact of all this was. Is something that will be difficult to determine. And that's a deputy attorney general said today. There's no evidence at this point to say that it it altered the election anyway. Board also say is I think going to be clear on this you know. The indictments as unwitting people in the charm campaign hurts the city before say well to Alter obviously there was no contact with Russians. Therefore that's not true well. Of course you can say there's no content Russians when that contact with the Russians and winning when the Russians are identifying themselves as American citizens in the indictment. Is replete with references to the way the Russians attempted to disguise themselves Yuma having a virtual. Virtual private networks set up here. In the United States and assume was able to Trace it back. He wouldn't straight back to Russia would Trace back where you're in the US if this is a very well finance sophisticated. Operation. That was looking to make sure it hurt Hillary Clinton. And that's what they were attempting to do both by supporting cultural and by herding birdie and help Newbury Sanders. Governor Chris Christie thank you for your time. I wanna go and at a royal Oakes who joins us on the phone an ABC news legal analyst and royal life when I ask you about the legal aspects of this because Odyssey this is. An indictment coming down from a US federal and to T about. Russian nationals we heard the deputy attorney general their say what they would like to see happen so what are the next act. Well the next step of course is to prosecute the case of the grand jury has spoken they have advanced the eight count so won this for defrauding America by. Impairing the lawful functions of the department of justice and Department of State. Second count conspiracy to commit wire fraud bank fraud and then three through eight the counselor for aggravated identity. Fast and we're talking about just thirteen Russians that twelve of homo. Poses a part of this research company at one of whom funded it three Russian netted he's now we get into extradition trying to get the companies and and the individuals due to stand trial. A year in the US. This is really kind of the intersection of law and politics and I think it's gonna create the classic glass is half full or half empty split are you see it depends on the prism you're looking Durham and there's something for everybody here. The Democrats are gonna say it to the worst I told you so come to mind about a re do of the election and the Democrats are gonna say okay. Maybe there was unwitting contacted his interest in but you know special counsel Robert Muller's investigation is still going on and although this particular indictment said. We didn't come up what evidence Americans knew about a Russian connection. Maybe Moeller will have more to say on this. What let's bring in now also on the phone John Cohen an ABC news contributor who sparked a law enforcement national security every conceivable. Level and at Donna what I ask you because obviously we heard some of the details laid out by the two deputy attorney general there were reading. Through them now but this is an effort that started by this organization these individuals as early as 2014. So what with the intention behind the operation in the first place. Yeah right so there's a couple points here first that this effort this specific effort described in this specific indictment. Was only one small element of a much broader effort by the Russian government and intelligence service says. Two. Sow discord in this country to undermine credibility of our government to interfere in our relationships with our key allies. Especially the goal of the Russian government in this entire misinformation or influence and propaganda campaign is to weaken the United States or Russia to advance its geopolitical goals. One way or are they doing that is was interfering in our 2016 election and as intelligent she said the other day. And the senate Intel committee their efforts are continuing and they expected to continue in the 2018 election in the 20/20 election. One other point real quickly. I would suggest that everybody. Remember that this indictment is one small part of much broader investigation. And we shouldn't read too much into that broader investigation. We aren't even though it is. Special like that your deputy attorney general choose their words very carefully he was very specific to say this indictment. We already noted that George pop the top of us with a part of the trump campaign had interactions with the Russians. And there were up and the information conveyed as part of that indictment. Com or that plea deal in which there was information about 30000. Hillary Clinton Eaton. We also know that there where meetings act trump tower. Between people who were known to be Russians who were being held out as represented as of the Russian government we're meeting with campaign officials. Siding did a lot more to come. And what this indictment did it is that lay down the underlying criminal framework. Can be used to potentially indict anyone. Who would determine aided abetted concealed or isn't some way involved in this ongoing criminal conspiracy. At Royal Oak selling go back to you on the phone as well now because Jon Cohen raises an interesting point there that the Odyssey deputy attorney general with very careful with the words that he was using. But this indictment should not be considered to be the entirety of what the special counsel investigation hats in its hands right now. That's exactly right I believe that special counsel Lawler has construed his charges pretty broad. People out of Sobel Q what about the collusion angle when he's talking about money laundering with Paul man important and so on but I think it is. Belief is that any violation of the law he comes across. Is fair game. Andy got this indictment puts meat on the bone. Great detail about the nature of the alleged Russian activity. And it is a blockbuster in that sense but I think everybody on the planet except Donald Trump and his inner circle. Believe the Russians were hugely involved in trying to influence. The 2016. Election attacking the release of emails which animosity by Putin against Hillary Clinton some are going to say well gee. It's not the function of an indictment to conclude that the election outcome was or wasn't change ups but workable political side as. On the other hand the Republicans will probably say well if it would be the purpose of an indictment to note the outcome. Of the election. Having been effected if it was that would Victor crime or serious it would. Justify greater penalties. So the other bottom line is that this is a template for proceeding with possible further indictments or investigations. And I think we're just gonna have to wake receive what the sixty lawyers on Robert Muller's team. May come up with in the next several months. And Mary Alice park's back to you in their DC bureau an out uncle and raise another interesting point which is that. Many of these efforts are ongoing in this indictment itself it laid out the summit and continued well after that when he sixteenth presidential election. And for all our talk about that presidential election we have more elections coming up. Very thing that there had been people on Capitol Hill. Who have denied that the Russian medal that they interfered in any way they think it's very difficult typical but that conversation to continue. Right wing he's up there talking about the fact that there's were no un. There are no. Not the folks had knowledge of this sort of work what was the word used unwitting. Members of the trump campaign. What is essentially saying is that there was not conscious collusion. But that doesn't mean that folks won't be conscious this go around or at least how are radar and a sensitivity. Now you sought the end. He sickly implored Americans to be Kong's skeptics to question what they see online question. What they read to be a wing air and mindful and more conscious participants. In the election process. You can imagine that that dares that that that lawmakers will want to encourage voters to take back to heart. And I think it's really interesting when you talk then about what the outcome or impact. Of some of this work. In the 2016 election night it then take a step back and remember that. But elections are won or lost on. One moment. Sure it we saw evidence of hacking of voter booths or or or actual paper ballots that work where messed went. But it's not the only way you can in packed an election. Folks impact elections candidates try to impact elections by. Messaging it's campaigning throwing events using specific or. It's about influence and emotion and gut reactions. So and that sense it's hard to imagine. How paid plans. And a messaging coordinated campaign. Wouldn't somehow have an impact. So last question savage on Colin got you on the phone the big question here that obviously not entered in this indictment may never. Actually be answered is did this plan work did all these. Did it work will we ever now. If so my opinion. Sort of a different than everybody else that they think. And I say that federal law enforcement and intelligence professionals the Russians have been for decades masters of include using propaganda and false information. To influence public opinion. In this specific distance what they did is that you social media fake personas fraudulent web site. Spreads far and mission and propaganda to influence public opinion. We know they were able to do that because you had people showing up at rallies based on. Information false information or are information that they were pumping out through these networks. How do you influence how did people vote they formatting opinions to go into the voting Booth. And that you don't have to manipulate voter tally by you have to do is influence voter opinion at this up so the Russians were successful. Using fake information to influence voter opinions. And they were able to influence the outcome of our election. Jon Cohen ABC news national security contributor there thanks to everyone for joining the conversation if you want to learn more. Keep up to date with the latest on this story head over to abcnews.com at any time we'll keep updating our stories there are just download ABC news that. And all the breaking news headlines frontier town.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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