Yes, America, there are still witches to hunt

Poor Donald.

That pesky special counsel’s witch hunt just keeps finding witches. And with them, the breadcrumbs that keep leading back in the direction of Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign.

A dozen Russian intelligence officers were indicted Friday on charges of conspiring to hack Democrats in 2016 in order to disrupt the presidential election, according to allegations laid out in an indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller.

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All 12 were members of the GRU, a Russian military intelligence agency. Eleven are accused of engaging in a sustained hack of the computer networks of Democratic organizations and the Hillary Clinton campaign. One is charged with conspiring to infiltrate the computers of state election organizations involved in administering our elections.

The Russian officers “covertly monitored the computers, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code, and stole emails and other documents,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in announcing the indictments. “The goal of the conspirators was to have an impact on the election. What impact they may have had is a matter of speculation, that’s not our responsibility.”

Timing is everything.

Remember the July 27, 2016, press conference when then-candidate Trump talked of his hope that missing Clinton emails would be found and made public? He looked straight into the cameras and said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

The new indictment says “on or about” that same day, “the conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish 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.”

For the first time, the Russians that day began snooping in Clinton emails.

Today, too, timing is relevant. Trump has made a point of late to dismiss further need to talk to Russian officials about meddling in our election to help him. Now with GRU officials actually indicted in the U.S. in connection with the meddling, how can he not bring up the subject when he is expected to meet Monday with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin in Finland?

Rosenstein said he briefed Trump earlier this week on the charges.

After Rosenstein announced the newest indictments, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, tweeted:

The indictments “are good news for all Americans. The Russians are nailed. No Americans are involved.” He then called on Mueller “to end this pursuit of the president and say President Trump is completely innocent.”

No Americans involved? Really?

What about cooperating witness George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign’s former foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to a charge that he lied to FBI agents about his interactions with Russians who claimed to have political “dirt” on Hillary Clinton? Despite the Trump folks saying Papadopoulos was a “coffee boy” with the campaign, documents show the White House was aware of his monthslong efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

What about Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, another cooperating witness who has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on sanctions on Russia and a U.N. resolution on Israel?

What about Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates, and associate Russian former intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik? Gates, too, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating.

What about 13 Russian internet trolls, and their funder, oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, all charged with conspiracy in a yearslong effort to create division among Americans and bolster Trump’s chances of winning the presidential election?

Altogether, the special counsel’s Russia probe has now charged 32 people with crimes including hacking, money laundering and lying to the FBI. About two dozen of those charged are Russians who are unlikely to ever be put on trial in the United States. The rest are Americans, and most have close ties to the Trump campaign.

In the meantime, Trump has taken a wrecking ball to everything the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin would like to see disrupted: NATO, the Iran deal, our traditional military exercises in the seas near North Korea, the government of our closest ally, Britain. What’s next — dropped sanctions? The recognition of Crimea? The cancellation of U.S. military exercises in the Balkan Sea?

There are witches everywhere. Follow the breadcrumbs, America.

— The Chattanooga Times Free Press