February 16, 2018 / 8:31 PM / 10 months ago

Reactions to Russian indictments in 2016 U.S. election meddling probe

(Reuters) - U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged a Russian Internet agency and more than a dozen Russians with interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign in an effort to support Donald Trump and denigrate his rival Hillary Clinton.

FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Below are reactions to Mueller’s 37-page indictment:

“We have known that Russians meddled in the election, but these indictments detail the extent of the subterfuge. These Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system. It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself. Today’s announcement underscores why we need to follow the facts and work to protect the integrity of future elections.”

- House Speaker Paul Ryan in a statement

“For all those who have been asking ‘where is the evidence of a crime?’ - this is it. This is the criminal conspiracy. This is what President Trump and his allies have repeatedly called a ‘hoax’ and ‘fake news.’ Today’s indictment shows precisely how the Russians worked to help the Trump campaign, in startling and extensive detail.”

- Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings in a statement

“Mueller just put Moscow on notice. This ought to be a wakeup call to Washington: Putin’s shadow war is aimed at undermining Americans’ trust in our institutions. We know Russia is coming back in 2018 and 2020 - we have to take this threat seriously.”

- Republican Senator Ben Sasse in a statement, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin

“The Putin regime presents a pressing threat to American interests, including through Moscow’s long-running influence operations against the United States. The House Intelligence Committee has been investigating these threats for many years: in 2014 - the year the Russians began their operation targeting the 2016 elections — I warned about Russia’s worldwide influence operations. In April 2016 I stated that the United States’ failure to predict Putin’s plans and intentions is ‘the biggest intelligence failure that we’ve had since 9/11.’ Although the Obama Administration failed to act on the Committee’s warnings, it’s gratifying to see that Russian agents involved in these operations have now been identified and indicted.”

- Republican Representative Devin Nunes in a statement

“I’m glad the administration is acting, based on the ongoing work of the special counsel, to hold Russia accountable. We’ve long known Vladimir Putin has been using an arsenal of trolls, disinformation and propaganda to try to undermine western democracies – including the United States. Putin doesn’t care whether we’re Democrats or Republicans. His goal is to undermine America’s values and our public institutions. More must be done, including with international broadcasting, to counter this threat. Our midterm elections are rapidly approaching, and we must ensure the sanctity of our political process.”

- Republican Representative Ed Royce in a statement

“Thirteen people interfered in the U.S. elections?! Thirteen against an intelligence services budget of billions? Against intelligence and counterintelligence, against the latest developments and technologies? Absurd? Yes.”

- Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in a Facebook post

“The Americans are very emotional people, they see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I am not at all upset that I am on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them.”

- Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin to RIA news agency

“Mueller indictment of Russians starts to fill out the other side. Next: who are the actors in this country. The contours of the conspiracy are starting to be detailed. This is hugely significant.”

- Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Twitter

“It is a cold hard fact that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election. We know for a fact that they hacked into the Democratic National Committee. We know for a fact that they hacked into voter registration systems across the country and used social media to sow discord and spread disinformation among voters. And we know for a fact that their goal was to help elect Donald Trump. Now, this indictment gives us a chilling look at just how sophisticated, well-funded and wide-ranging this attack on our democracy really was. It should send chills up the spine of every American.”

- Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez in a statement

“The Special Counsel’s indictments make absolutely clear that the Russians perpetrated a strategic effort to undermine and influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election to support the campaign of Donald Trump, and are continuing to interfere with our elections. As desperately as President Trump insists that the Special Counsel investigation is a ‘hoax’, these latest indictments build on multiple guilty pleas and indictments of several Trump campaign officials, demonstrating the gravity of the Trump-Russia scandal.”

- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in a statement

“While it does not include an allegation that any U.S. persons conspired wittingly with the Russian actors, the indictment leaves open the vital question of whether Americans, including any associated with the Trump campaign, knowingly played a role in Russia’s active measures campaign.”

- Democratic Representative Adam Schiff in a statement

“It has been clear to everyone (except Donald Trump) that Russia was deeply involved in the 2016 elections and intends to be involved in the 2018 elections. It is the American people who should be deciding the political future of our country, not Mr. Putin and the Russian oligarchs. It is absolutely imperative that the Mueller investigation be allowed to go forward without obstruction from the Trump administration or Congress.”

- Independent Senator Bernie Sanders in a statement

“What we learned was astonishing. We learned that the Russian were also organizing for Bernie Sanders. We learned that in late November 2016 they then turned their efforts to be against President Trump, that their goal was to sow discord and chaos, not to promote a certain candidate, and that no Americans were involved in this plot ... Democrats deceived this country and they were caught today.”

- Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany to Fox News

“Sometimes an indictment is designed to catch the principal perpetrators. But sometimes an indictment or prosecution is launched with an eye towards accomplices and conspirators, who may not even be identified yet. In this case, the Russians are in Russia, and Putin isn’t going to hand them over any time soon. If someone in the United States assisted them, though, they could be prosecuted for their participation in the criminal endeavor. We don’t know who those persons are, but as of today we know a lot more about the criminal enterprise they were involved in.”

- Cornell Law School professor Jens David Ohlin

“The indictment is careful to say there are some unnamed conspirators and co-conspirators. We have no sense of who those might be and if they will be charged ever. ... There are no allegations in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant. But that is a telling statement by omission. There is no reason to think that is the only indictment released from Special Counsel’s office.”

- Constitutional law professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, Leah Litman

“The indictment refers repeatedly to unwitting people in the Trump campaign. Anybody who was dealing with these Russians unwittingly is not guilty of a crime. But if Mueller has evidence that there are people who were dealing with members of this conspiracy knowingly then there would be a lot of basis to charge those people with the same crime.”

- Former federal prosecutor and Stanford Law School professor David Alan Sklansky

“What is clear is that we now have a public accounting of allegations of Russian interference in the American election system that is far more detailed and broader in scope than any public accounting we have had so far. That a Russian organization literally spent millions of dollars to influence the American election is a damning indictment of Russia and its interference. If the U.S. government fails to respond that will be a severe sign of weakness. Sitting back is not acceptable ... The indictment is really interesting in that it only portrays American victims and no American collaborators or colluders. It’s an open question why that is.”

- Former senior counsel in the investigation of President Bill Clinton, Paul Rosenzweig

“The grand jury indictment of Russian agents details a broad conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Buried literally in the middle of the indictment is a paragraph that should jar every American committed to the long fight for voting rights. The Russians allegedly masqueraded as African-American and American Muslim activists to urge minority voters to abstain from voting in the 2016 election or to vote for a third-party candidate. The alleged Russian campaign to depress turnout of minority voters is wrong. Both the special counsel and Congress should investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian agents in this alleged targeting of minority voters in 2016. Such actions, if proven, would be criminal.”

- Deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, Christopher Anders, in a statement

Compiled by Reuters reporters; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Howard Goller

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