Twelve Russian intelligence officers hacked into the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton presidential campaign in the run-up to the 2016 election and released tens of thousands of stolen communications in a brazen effort by a foreign government to meddle in US politics, according to a grand jury indictment announced Friday (overnight NZT).
The indictment stands as the clearest Justice Department allegation yet of Russian efforts to interfere, through illegal hacking, in the US presidential election before Americans went to the polls - and the first to implicate the Russian government directly.
It had been sought by special counsel Robert Mueller and comes days before President Donald Trump holds a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
US intelligence agencies have said the meddling was aimed at helping the Trump campaign and harming the election bid of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The effort also included bogus Facebook ads and social media postings that prosecutors say were aimed at influencing public opinion and sowing discord on hot-button social issues.
The indictment lays out a sweeping effort starting in March 2016 to break into key Democratic email accounts, such as those belonging to the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Among those targeted was John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman.
The Kremlin denied anew that it tried to sway the election.
"The Russian state has never interfered and has no intention of interfering in the US elections," President Vladimir Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said.
But the indictment identifies the defendants as officers with Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, also known as GRU.
It accuses them of covertly monitoring the computers of dozens of Democratic officials and volunteers, implanting malicious computer code known as malware and using spearphishing emails to gain control of the accounts of people associated with the Clinton campaign.
The charges come as Mueller continues to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the presidential election.