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Long IslandPolitics

Donald Trump now under pressure to strike a stronger pose with Putin

Special counsel Robert Mueller has returned election meddling to center stage.

Another morsel of clarity was added to the U.S.-Russia election mess on Friday when authorities released the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers for allegedly conspiring to hack the computer networks of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic Party.

Attention instantly swung to President Donald Trump's overseas trip, specifically his summit Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier noise about NATO, massive anti-Trump demonstrations in England and the American president's slap at Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plans faded into the background. 

In Washington, special counsel Robert Mueller offered evidence that connected two big dots that were long believed linked anyway: Russia's GRU military intelligence organization and the disruption-minded theft of documents under the false online personas Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks.

No Americans were publicly charged, at least not on Friday. But the indictment against the dozen Russians included the intriguing statement that "the conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump."

For those who maintain open minds about the whole affair, this would do little to support the Trump-GOP "no collusion" line. But the fuller question of the campaign's involvement remains unresolved as the probe continues.

But it did have instant implications for Monday's meeting, thus pressuring Trump to make a show of confronting Putin over U.S. election meddling.

According to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, one of the defendants worked to "infiltrate computers of organizations responsible for administering elections, including state boards of election, secretaries of state, and companies that supply software and other technology used to administer elections."

This is the most focused public suggestion yet of who did what in the cyber-scandal. Prosecutors identified defendants including Viktor Borisovich Netyksho and Aleksei Aleksandrovich Potemkin. They identified the units within GRU for which the defendants worked. And they described the use of spear-phishing and malicious software to illegally capture information.

From the other side came statements that were less elucidating. Flamboyant Trump-tied political operative Roger Stone said when asked by Rolling Stone if he'd been communicating with Russian agents after all: "No court has yet confirmed this and I believe it would require inspection of the DNC server at trial in order to prove it. Even if this is proven to be the case my exchange with him [Guccifer 2.0 was] innocent based on its context and content and timing."

Bottom line: The mess has a long life still.

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