On Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The indictment provided overwhelming evidence that Russia aimed to sow divisiveness and help Donald Trump win.
For months now several Congressional Republicans have argued that the premise on which this investigation is based is shoddy. Some assert that in light of text messages exchanged between high-ranking FBI officials once involved with the investigation, a salacious dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign that was used in part to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on the Trump team — spelled out in the Nunes memo — those conducting the investigation cannot be trusted.
Meanwhile, Democrats, particularly Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, claims that substantial evidence exists that the Trump team conspired with the Russians. They regard the actions of the Russians as an egregious assault on American democracy.
Here are 5 things you need to know about the ongoing Russia investigation in light of recent developments.
1. Russia's latest antics began in 2014.
Russian meddling in the elections of other countries is not new. And the most recent episode of such meddling in American political affairs predates the 2016 presidential election cycle. The indictment paints a picture of Moscow's involvement starting in 2014 before Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton even announced they were running.
The 37-page indictment explains the extensive operations of Russian organization Internet Research Agency, which in September of 2016 reportedly had a monthly budget of more than $1.25 million for the project that included interfering with the American election, according to CNN.
The defendants that were indicted posed as Americans, created fake personas, social media profiles, and groups with the intention of attracting U.S. audiences. In 2014 two of the defendants traveled to the United States to gather intelligence for these operations, the indictment says. They focused much of their efforts on influencing "purple" swing states.
2. 13 Russians, 3 Russian entities have been indicted.
Special Counsel Mueller, who was appointed last year to spearhead the investigation, indicted 13 Russian individuals and three entities, the Justice Department said Friday. They were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States; three defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five were charged with aggravated identity theft.
"The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general," said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The indictment offers a detailed explanation as to how the the Russians created fake email addresses and social media accounts to organize marches for Trump. They also purchased ads on Facebook, some of which were pro-Trump while others supported Hillary Clinton.
Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, whom the Russian press calls Vladmir Putin's "chef," controls a company that funded an entity behind much of the meddling. Prigozhin said he was "not at all upset" he was named in the indictment.
"Americans are very impressionable people, they see what they want to see," he told Russian state news outlet RIA Novosti. "I have great respect for them. I'm not at all upset that I'm on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see one."
3. The 'Troll Farm' in St. Petersburg spread false information.
The 13 individuals who were indicted were associated with what is being called a "troll factory" in St. Petersburg.
A former employee of this operation who spoke Saturday described working there as a chapter straight out of George Orwell's dystopian science fiction novel 1984.
Marat Mindiyarov, 43, said in an interview with The Washington Post Saturday that he wound up there by accident — the building was near his home — and was employed there from November 2014 to February 2015. This was a place where "you have to write that white is black and black is white." People were also paid to spread false information and write fake news stories around the clock.
"Your first feeling, when you ended up there, was that you were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line. The volumes were colossal — there were huge numbers of people, 300 to 400, and they were all writing absolute untruths."
During his months there Mindiyarov worked in the commenting department and would post untruths in comments that did not reflect his opinions whatsoever on news articles from Russian outlets. He had to write in his own words, capturing the substance of what was written for him. This was all part of a strategy designed to manipulate public perception toward greater support for Russia.
When the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Russia because of their intervention in Ukraine and the Russian ruble began falling, he was required to write how great life was, that their currency was actually gaining value and that sanctions would make Russia stronger even though the opposite was true.
This type of deception was practiced in a "Facebook Department" to influence Americans, where employees — who were paid twice as much as the Russian news commenters — had to know English perfectly, and was reportedly staffed with modern, stylish, hipster types.
Mindiyarov described working there as "a colossal labor of monkeys," and "pointless." He quit working there for "moral reasons" adding that he believed that the troll farm will remain open and that "the people on the list of indictments have nothing to fear as long as they are in Russia."
4. Trump denies collusion; some tweets conflict with past statements.
For his part, President Trump denies that he or any of his campaign team in any way colluded with Russia, and Friday's indictments show no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion. But some of his most recent words conflict with what he has said in the past.
In a statement, the White House said president was fully briefed on the indictment and "is glad to see the Special Counsel's investigation further indicates— that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected."
Over the weekend the president tweeted many times about the Russia case. Several pointed out that the content of those tweets contradicted his past statements.
Early Sunday morning the President tweeted: "I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said 'it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.' The Russian 'hoax' was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!"
Washington Free Beacon reporter Alex Griswold tweeted in response: "This is a lie. At several times, Trump also referred to the Russia meddling allegations as a hoax as well, not just the collusion allegations," citing past Trump tweets and statements from 2017 and his remarks during the third presidential debate in Oct 2016 where cast doubt on the Russia hacking operations, including charging the DNC of orchestrating the cyber attack.
The president subsequently posted on Twitter: "If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!"
5. The investigation is not over, Trump hasn't been cleared.
Despite the indictments that have been issued, Special Counsel Mueller is not finished with his probe.
Further indictments may yet emerge and the latest charges have increased conversation about the dangers of cyber warfare, especially how Russia crossed so many lines in recent years, as newer technology allows them to interfere more efficiently and quickly.
Reports indicate that Special Counsel Mueller may wind up the investigation in as little as a few weeks but suggest it is also possible that the probe could last for several more months, perhaps even through the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections.
Since October, Mueller has indicted four former Trump aides including Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadapoulos. Flynn and Papadapoulos have already pleaded guilty to their respective charges.
When journalists have pressed Trump on whether he would agree to be interviewed by Mueller he has given mixed signals, telling them "yes," "no" and "maybe" at various times. On Jan. 10 the president told reporters, "We'll see what happens."
Mueller has thus far not indicated if he will interview the president.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin dismissed the indictments Monday, saying they do not see any "significant evidence" that someone interfered in U.S. affairs, and also rejected the idea that the Russian government was involved, as was reported by The Hill.