AILSA CHANG, HOST:
All right now, back here in Washington - blockbuster charges today from the special counsel investigating Russia's election interference. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the announcement at a news conference.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROD ROSENSTEIN: The indictment charges 12 Russian military officers by name for conspiring to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
CHANG: NPR's Carrie Johnson was there. And now she is here...
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: (Laughter).
CHANG: ...To talk more about the case. Hey, Carrie.
JOHNSON: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So what did these Russian officials allegedly do to tamper with the election?
JOHNSON: Remember; in 2016, someone hacked the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, specifically...
JOHNSON: ...Her chairman, John Podesta. Now today a grand jury in Washington, D.C., has pointed the finger at people responsible. The grand jury says they're Russians based in military units in Russia. And the court papers say they installed software to capture people's keystrokes or...
JOHNSON: They fooled people into giving up their passwords, a technique called spear-phishing. Now, there's a particular detail in these charging papers that stood out to me. The papers say the Russians targeted Clinton's personal office and some staff emails on July 27, 2016. That's the same day candidate Donald Trump said, Russia, if you're listening, I hope you can find Hillary Clinton's missing emails.
CHANG: Wow - coincidence or not? Now, we noticed some of these stolen emails wound up in the hands of people inside the U.S., right? So why are no Americans charged in this indictment?
JOHNSON: We asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He said there's no allegation in the court papers today that Americans were knowing participants in this conspiracy or any of them knew they were actually talking to Russians. The indictment does describe people who had contact with these Russians, including an unnamed congressional candidate and, maybe most interesting, a person described in the indictment as being close to members of the Trump campaign who was communicating with these hackers. We think that's Roger Stone.
Roger Stone has acknowledged communicating with hackers, but he says he doesn't know who they were - doesn't - didn't know who they were at the time. And again, there's no charges against any of these Americans and no charges, at least for now, against an entity we know helped distribute those stolen emails. That's WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is not mentioned by name in this indictment, but it's described as Organization One.
CHANG: Organization One - now, President Trump is preparing to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin next Monday. So I can imagine the timing of this indictment seems a little awkward. What has the White House been saying about all these charges?
JOHNSON: The White House is pointing to the fact that the Justice Department concluded there is no evidence the hacking altered the vote count or changed the outcome of the election in 2016. Lindsay Walters, a spokeswoman at the White House, says that's consistent with what Donald Trump's been saying all along. And Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tweeted, these charges are good for America. He says the Russians have been nailed, and he says it's time for the special counsel to wrap up and exonerate President Trump. Well, the Justice Department says the investigation's ongoing, and special counsel Robert Mueller won't be commenting.
CHANG: All right, so the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein - I mean, he's known as a guy who sticks to the facts. And I understand today, though, he kind of went out of his way to deliver a message. What happened?
JOHNSON: Yeah. In the closing remarks in his news conference, he said it doesn't matter that the victims in this case were Democrats. We've got to go - rise above partisanship. He says the blame here rests with the criminals, the Russians.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
ROSENSTEIN: The blame for election interference belongs to the criminals who committed election interference. We need to work together to hold the perpetrators accountable, and we need to keep moving forward to preserve our values, protect against future interference and defend America.
JOHNSON: Now, Ailsa, right after Rod Rosenstein spoke, the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, put out a statement. He says the Russians have been targeting the U.S. for cyberattacks. He says the warning system is blinking red. And he says we're at a critical point. It's time to harden U.S. defenses when it comes to elections.
CHANG: All right, that's NPR Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thank you, Carrie.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF ESMERINE'S "FUNAMBULE (DEUS PAS DE SEREIN)")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.