One thing is very clear from Friday’s indictment of 12 Russian spies: The Justice Department believes the Russian government hacked Democrats’ emails during the election to try to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning.
But the indictment left some tantalizing questions unanswered about who may have had contact with the Russian hackers and why. These are questions that, in at least three cases below, The Washington Post has already been able to answer. Here they are:
1.Who was the candidate for Congress who got information from the Russian hackers?
The indictment alleges Russians hacked into Democrats’ emails for months, and throughout the campaign released those documents publicly or shared them with people — including, the indictment said, a candidate for Congress.
Who was this person and why did he or she want this information and what did they do with it? We still don’t know.
2. Whom in Trump’s orbit did the hackers talk to?
The indictment says that the hackers, who were trying to hide their true identities, “wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.” And that person wrote back.
In August, the indictment says the hackers replied to this Trump-connected person: ‘thank u for writing back … do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?”
Two days later they added this: “please tell me if i can help u anyhow … it would be a great pleasure to me.”
The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky have reported this person is Roger Stone, a Trump confidant who served as an outside adviser for the campaign.
But here’s another question that Stone’s communication with the hackers raises: How often did they talk? The indictment makes it sound as if communication between the hackers and Stone was regular. From the indictment:
“On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posting as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, ‘what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.’ The person responded, ‘[p]retty standard.’”
3. Who was working with the hackers to damage the Clinton campaign?
The hackers themselves didn’t release the biggest dump of documents. That was the work of an organization the indictment describes only as “Organization 1.” The indictment describes this organization was extremely eager to release documents in time for maximum impact to hurt Clinton’s campaign.
According to the indictment, during the summer of 2016, just before the Democratic National Convention, “Organization 1″ repeatedly pinged the hackers, who were still disguising their true Russian identities, to get them to release “anything hillary related” in time for maximum impact to hurt Clinton’s campaign.
The Post has reported that organization is actually WikiLeaks, which published emails the hackers stole from the Democratic National Committee on the eve of Democrats’ convention. The fallout from some of those emails led to then-DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign her post.
The unanswered question is whether there’s a connection between what WikiLeaks released and what Stone knew or didn’t know. Stone claimed during the campaign he was in contact with the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, and he even publicly bragged that Assange “will educate the American people soon” on Clinton.
A few days later after Stone said that, WikiLeaks published emails stolen from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
On Friday, Stone’s lawyer, Grant Smith, told The Post that his client had no contact with the Russians: “[I]t is clear from the indictment issued today that [Stone] was not in any way involved with any of the alleged hacking of the 2016 election.”
4. Which state’s voter rolls got hacked?
The indictment says that in July 2016, Russian hackers got access to a state board of elections “and stole information related to approximately 500,000 voters, including names, addresses, partial social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers.” It’s not clear which state this was or what happened with the voters’ information. But they indictment says they continued to probe election offices in key states — such as Georgia, Iowa and Florida — for weaknesses.
5. Is there any connection to Trump publicly asking Russians to hack Clinton and the Russians trying to hack Clinton?
The indictment draws a direct connection to one of Trump’s most infamous campaign news conferences and Russian efforts to hack Clinton. In July 2016, Trump spoke to the media about the emails Clinton had not turned over to the FBI during its investigation of her use of a private server during her time as secretary of state. Trump said then: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
The indictment says that “on or about” that same day, the Russians appeared to try:
“[T]he conspirators attempted after hours to spearfish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.”
There’s no evidence that there was any behind-the-scenes coordination on that hack, and the indictment doesn’t allege any. But it does illustrate that these Russian hackers were carefully watching the U.S. presidential campaign.
6. How did this impact the election, if at all?
The indictment makes no mention of the election outcome. In announcing the indictment Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said that’s not for the Justice Department figure out. There are some in the legal world who argue the impact on the election doesn’t really matter: What’s more important is to not lose sight of is the fact a foreign government tried to influence a U.S. presidential election.
But politicians on both sides have seized on this question of electoral impact, anyway. Clinton has said she’s pretty sure the Russian leaks of Podesta’s emails in October cost her.
Backing her up is former national intelligence director James R. Clapper Jr., who told PBS NewsHour in May that he personally believes Russia “turned” the election: “[T]o me it exceeds logic and credulity that they didn’t affect the election. And it’s my belief they actually turned it.”
While Trump has acknowledged Russian hacking during the election, he and his Republican allies in Congress have maintained that Russian influence didn’t change anyone’s votes.
It’s very difficult to gauge how much Russian efforts affected voters, but what’s made plain by Friday’s indictment is that Russia certainly tried.