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The Russians are not our enemies. Vladimir Putin's regime is.

The Russians suffer more from Putin than we ever will. He plays us for fools, but Putin and his friends rob their own country daily. His foes in Russia get beaten up, arrested or killed.

Putin rose to the top during post-Soviet chaos. He stays on top. He knows how to fight underhanded. He certainly knows how to get enemies to fight each other.

Consider the baker's dozen of Putin's errand boys indicted a week ago by our Justice Department. Their assigned task was to stir the social media pot and worsen what already divides us. Their job was more than a hoax but whole lot less than attacking Pearl Harbor. Look at their results, though -- not during the last election. After it.

Until the indictments, the president and a big share of his followers fumed that the investigation is a hoax. They called the Justice Department and intelligence community liars. To the extent they can, they still do. Trust in the FBI and in the intelligence community -- which keeps tabs on Putin -- plummeted among the party in power. Judging by this return on investment, Putin bought a winning lottery ticket here.

Liberals sneer at conservatives for this. Yet Putin boosted Sen. Bernie Sander's run for president, too. Jill Stein of the Green Party was a major beneficiary also. Black Lives Matter is just as much a target as those who hate them. We are all being played for suckers.

Critics scoff at Putin's operations as small and unsophisticated. Show me when any of those critics got bigger results at less cost. Timing is everything. This tin whistle scheme never would have succeeded so wildly in a less-divided country.

Russians play chess and Americans play poker, the saying goes. Not Putin. That man never plays a game that shows all his pieces. He prefers poker because he bluffs very well. He can win with a weak hand. Thanks to Putin critic Garry Kasparov for that description in a recent article.

Using the timid little word "meddling" to describe what Putin does is naive. He hate-mongers. Anyone aggrieved in America is targeted. If the injustice is real instead of only perceived, so much the better. Putin did not create our divisions. He embitters what is already there. Now athletes making peaceful protests, for instance, draw more anger than this dictator who despises our nation's founding beliefs.

Ever see the old Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street"? If not, look it up. It illustrates Putin's goal here. Thanks to conservative writer Tom Nichols for tweeting that.

Putin's plotting can no longer be rationally denied. I do not care what people thought before these indictments. What matters is what people do now. I hope they extend the same courtesy to me. If someone thinks my past, very harsh remarks about this topic were motivated more by bias than by reason, I hope he or she will consider things afresh. Likewise, I will never say "told you so" to anyone who refuses to play Putin's game anymore. Anyone fooled was fooled by a pro.

So now what? Thomas Friedman in Monday's morning's New York Times pointed out our enormous advantage over Putin. Putin spreads lies and stirs emotions. Telling the truth about him is our best weapon.

To tell the truth, you have to find it -- all of it.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is no witch hunt. It deserves our support and attention. He has five guilty pleas so far among 19 people indicted. One of those pleas came from the one-time national security adviser. And no, Mueller has exonerated no one. An investigation never clears anyone until it is finished. I doubt this one is close to finished.

Many a commentator remarks on the speed at which Mueller's team gets results. Part of that speed is politically pragmatic. Getting results quickly helps keep the investigation's plug from getting pulled. The president, his collaborators and their side of the echo chamber try constantly to undermine the investigation, to say nothing is there. So Mueller drives his crew hard.

Mueller's team could not move this fast without a lot of good fuel. Fuel for an investigation is called evidence. The team must have a lot.

Let Mueller finish. Be wary of anyone who says he is finished already. The only one who can believably declare when Mueller is done is Mueller.

Commentary on 02/24/2018

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