WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers on Friday for hacking the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton presidential campaign. The indictment came just three days before President Trump is planning to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Helsinki, Finland.
The 29-page indictment is the most detailed accusation by the American government to date of the Russian state’s role in the 2016 election interference, and includes a litany of brazen Russian subterfuge operations designed to foment chaos in the months before the election. From phishing attacks to gain access to Democratic operatives, to money laundering, to attempts to break into state elections boards, the indictment details a vigorous and complex effort by Russia’s top military intelligence service to sabotage the campaign of Mr. Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.
The timing of the indictment, by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, added a jolt of tension to the already freighted atmosphere surrounding Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin, and is all but certain to feed into the conspiratorial views held by the president and some of his allies that Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors are determined to undermine Mr. Trump’s designs for a rapprochement with Russia.
Mr. Trump has long expressed doubt that Russia was behind the 2016 attacks, and the 11-count indictment illustrates even more the distance between the skepticism of the president and the nearly unanimous views of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies he leads.
“Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious, and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide and conquer us,” Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, said during a news conference announcing the indictment.
“So long as we are united in our commitment to the shared values enshrined in the Constitution, they will not succeed,” he said.
The announcement created a bizarre split screen on cable networks between the news conference at the Justice Department and a solemn pageant at Windsor Castle in England, where the Mr. Trump and the first lady were reviewing royal guards with Queen Elizabeth II.
Russia has denied that its government had any role in hacking the presidential election, and on Friday Mr. Trump said he would confront Mr. Putin directly. But the president said he did not expect his Russian counterpart to acknowledge a role.
“I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee, I did it, you got me,’ ” Mr. Trump said during a news conference hours before the indictment was announcement. He added that there would not be any “Perry Mason” — a reference to the old courtroom TV drama. “I will absolutely firmly ask the question.”
But Mr. Trump also said he believed that the focus on Russia’s election meddling and whether his campaign was involved were merely partisan issues that made it more difficult for him to establish closer ties with Mr. Putin.
[Read the indictment here.]
Mr. Rosenstein said Friday’s indictment did not include any allegations that the Russian efforts succeeded in influencing the election results, nor evidence that any of Mr. Trump’s advisers knowingly coordinated with the Russian campaign — a point immediately seized upon by the president’s allies.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, said in a Twitter post that Friday’s indictment showed “no Americans are involved,” and he called on Mr. Mueller to end the inquiry. “The Russians are nailed,” he wrote.
Still, the indictment added curious new details to the timeline of events leading up to the November 2016 elections.
For instance, the indictment reveals that on July 27, 2016, Russian hackers tried for the first time to break into the servers of Mrs. Clinton’s personal offices. It was the same day that Mr. Trump publicly encouraged Russia to hack Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
“I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference in Florida. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
The indictment does not mention those remarks.
Separately, the indictment states that the hackers were communicating with “a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign.” Two government officials identified the person as Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump and the subject of close scrutiny by the F.B.I. and Mr. Mueller’s team. There is no indication Mr. Stone knew he was communicating with Russians.
Communicating on August 15 as Guccifer 2.0, an online persona, the hackers wrote: “thank u for writing back … do u find anyt[h]ING interesting In the docs i posted?”
Two days later, the hackers wrote the person again, adding “please tell me If i can help u anyhow … it would be a great pleasure to me.”
In another interaction several weeks later, the hackers, again writing as Guccifer 2.0, pointed to a document stolen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and posted online, asking, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.”
He replied: “[p]retty standard.”
The indictment’s extraordinary details may raise pointed questions about actions taken and not taken by American intelligence and the Obama administration as the Russian campaign unfolded.
In many instances, the indictment describes the actions of individual Russian intelligence officers on particular dates. It is unclear from the indictment whether American intelligence agencies, primarily the National Security Agency, were watching in real time as the Russians prepared for and carried out their attacks against Democratic targets in the spring of 2016.
It was not until October 2016 that the government put out its first public statement on the Russian intrusion. If Americans knew much earlier about Russian actions, there will be questions about why they did not warn the targets, try countermeasures or call Russia out publicly before they did.
It is possible, however, that American spies did not detect the Russian attacks in real time, but reconstructed them later, by studying the hacked Democratic networks and possibly breaking into Russian systems to examine logs.
Friday’s indictment is a “big building block in the narrative being constructed for the American people regarding what happened during the election,” said Raj De, the chair of the cybersecurity practice at Mayer Brown, and the former general counsel of the National Security Agency.
By pulling together threads that Americans have read about for years, including the hacking of political institutions and campaigns, the dissemination of hacked emails and the attempts to compromise state election infrastructure, “this shows that the Russian campaign to impact the election was more coordinated and strategic than some have given it credit,” Mr. De said. “This indictment is our clearest window into that campaign.”
Mr. Mueller has filed more than 100 criminal counts against 32 people and three companies. Among the people previously charged are fourteen Russians and three Trump associates who have already pleaded guilty.
After the indictment was announced, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, and other Democrats called on Mr. Trump to cancel his one-on-one meeting with Mr. Putin.
“These indictments are further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement on Friday. “Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy.”
Most of the Russian intelligence officials charged in Friday’s indictment worked for the Russian military intelligence agency, formerly known as the G.R.U. and now called the Main Directorate. According to the indictment, the conspirators used a variety of currencies for its financial network. But the Russians principally sought to use Bitcoin to fund their work, including the purchase of servers and domain names.
Relying on Bitcoin, the indictment said, allowed the Russians “to avoid direct relationships with traditional financial institutions” — that is, banks that typically want to know details about their customers.
The hackers also sought to create their own money by “mining” Bitcoins, the indictment said. The virtual currency is created by using dedicated computers to perform complex calculations that eventually yield new bitcoins. Among the items bought with Bitcoin mined by hackers was the domain dcleaks.com, the indictment said.
“The pool of Bitcoin generated from the GRU’s mining activity was used, for example, to pay a Romanian company to register the domain dcleaks.com through a payment processing company located in the United States,” the indictment said.
Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed reporting from London. Nicholas Fandos, Matthew Rosenberg and Scott Shane contributed reporting from Washington.