Russians charged with meddling in 2016 race

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks to the media with an announcement that the office of special counsel Robert Mueller says a grand jury has charged 13 Russian nationals and several Russian entities, on Friday. (AP)
Updated 17 February 2018
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Russians charged with meddling in 2016 race

WASHINGTON: In an extraordinary indictment, the US special counsel has accused 13 Russians of an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, charging them with running a huge but hidden social media trolling campaign aimed in part at helping Republican Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The federal indictment, brought on Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, represents the most detailed allegations to date of illegal Russian meddling during the campaign that sent Trump to the White House. It also marks the first criminal charges against Russians believed to have secretly worked to influence the outcome.
The Russian organization was funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the indictment said. He is a wealthy St. Petersburg businessman with ties to the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin.
Trump quickly claimed vindication on Friday, noting in a tweet that the alleged interference efforts began in 2014 — “long before I announced that I would run for President.”
“The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!” he tweeted.
But the indictment does not resolve the collusion question at the heart of the continuing Mueller probe, which before Friday had produced charges against four Trump associates. US intelligence agencies have previously said the Russian government interfered to benefit Trump, including by orchestrating the hacking of Democratic emails, and Mueller has been assessing whether the campaign coordinated with the Kremlin.
The latest indictment does not focus on the hacking but instead centers on a social media propaganda effort that began in 2014 and continued past the election, with the goal of producing distrust in the American political process. Trump himself has been reluctant to acknowledge the interference and any role that it might have played in propelling him to the White House.
The indictment does not allege that any American knowingly participated in Russian meddling, or suggest that Trump campaign associates had more than “unwitting” contact with some of the defendants who posed as Americans during election season.
But it does lay out a vast and wide-ranging Russian effort to sway political opinion in the US through a strategy that involved creating Internet postings in the names of Americans whose identities had been stolen; staging political rallies while posing as American political activists and paying people in the US to promote or disparage candidates.
The 13 Russians are not in custody and not likely to ever face trial. The Justice Department has for years supported indicting foreign defendants in absentia as a way of publicly shaming them and effectively barring them from foreign travel.
The surreptitious campaign was organized by the Internet Research Agency, a notorious Russian troll farm that the indictment says sought to conduct “information warfare against the United States of America.”


Rain could hinder search for victims of California wildfire

Updated 19 November 2018
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Rain could hinder search for victims of California wildfire

  • Rain was forecast for midweek in the Paradise area, which could make it hard for crews to keep making progress against the blaze
  • About 1,000 names remain on a list of people unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began

PARADISE, California: The search for remains of victims of the devastating Northern California wildfire has taken on new urgency as rain in the forecast could complicate those efforts while also bringing relief to firefighters on the front lines.
Up to 400 people fanned out Sunday to search the ash and rubble where homes once stood before flames roared through the Sierra foothills town of Paradise and surrounding communities, killing at least 77 people in the deadliest US wildfire in a century.
Wearing white coveralls, hard hats and masks, teams of volunteers and search and rescue crews poked through the smoky debris for fragments of bone before rains can wash them away or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste. The so-called Camp Fire has destroyed more than 10,500 homes.
A team of 10 volunteers, accompanied by a cadaver dog, went from house to house in the charred landscape. They scrutinized the rubble in five-minute sweeps, using sticks to move aside debris and focused on vehicles, bathtubs and what was left of mattresses.
When no remains were found, they spray-painted a large, orange “0” near the house and moved on.
Robert Panak, a volunteer on a team from Napa County, said he tried to picture the house before it burned and think where people might have hidden. His morning search was fruitless, but he wasn’t deterred.
“I just think about the positives, bringing relief to the families, closure,” Panak said.
Sheriff Kory Honea said it was within the “realm of possibility” that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze. He also questioned whether the search for remains could be completed by midweek when rain is forecast.
“As much as I wish that we could get through all of this before the rains come, I don’t know if that’s possible,” Honea said.
About 1,000 names remain on a list of people unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began in Butte County about 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of San Francisco, authorities said.
Authorities don’t believe all those on the list are missing and the roster dropped by 300 on Sunday as more people were located or got in touch to say they weren’t missing.
On Sunday afternoon, more than 50 people gathered at a memorial for the victims at First Christian Church in Chico, where a banner on the altar read, “We will rise from the ashes.”
People hugged and shed tears as Pastor Jesse Kearns recited a prayer for first firefighters, rescuers and search teams: “We ask for continued strength as they are growing weary right now.”
Paul Stavish, who retired three months ago from a Silicon Valley computer job and moved to Paradise, placed a battery-powered votive candle on the altar as a woman played piano and sang “Amazing Grace.”
Stavish, his wife and three dogs managed to escape the fire, but the house is gone. He said he was thinking of the dead and also mourning the warm, tight-knit community.
“This is not just a few houses getting burned,” he said. “The whole town is gone.”
Hundreds of search and recovery personnel are involved in the effort, going to homes where they received tips that someone might have died.
But they are also doing a more comprehensive, “door-to-door” and “car-to-car” search of areas, said Joe Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, who is helping oversee the search and rescue effort.
The search area is huge, Moses said, with many structures that need to be checked.
The fire also burned many places to the ground, creating a landscape unique to many search-and- rescue personnel, he said.
“Here we’re looking for very small parts and pieces, and so we have to be very diligent and systematic in how we do your searches,” he said Friday.
The death count only grew by one Sunday and firefighters managed to expand containment to 65 percent of the 234 square mile (606 sq. kilometers) burn zone.
Rain was forecast for midweek in the Paradise area. The National Weather Service said the area could get 20 mph (32 kph) sustained winds and 40 mph (64 kph) gusts, which could make it hard for crews to keep making progress against the blaze.