One prominent figure neither taken into custody nor charged with conspiring against United States this week was Hillary Clinton -- or "Crooked Hillary," if you follow President Trump's frenzied tweetstorms.

This was a big disappointment to the embattled chief executive. The impending arrest of his Russia-friendly campaign manager Paul Manafort drove Trump up the wall. "There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton," he tweeted, "and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!"

Never mind that the only reason for hiring so compromised a figure as Manafort to begin with appeared to be his Moscow connections. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders contended that the "real Russia scandal" was that the "Clinton campaign paid for the fake Russia dossier, then lied about it and covered it up."

In fact, Mother Jones' October 2016 news story revealing the dossier's existence stated that Democrats sponsored it. So what?

Never mind, too, that a guilty plea entered by Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos proves one thing: Scant weeks after Democratic National Committee emails were stolen in March 2016, a Russian operative posing as Vladimir Putin's niece was dangling them in front of the Trump campaign. And nobody notified the FBI.

It's like an episode out of the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoons featuring Boris and Natasha, Soviet spies.

"Must get moose and squirrel!"

Papadapoulous's guilty plea also confirmed, for those of you keeping score at home, yet another of the "dodgy dossier's" allegations about Russian efforts to elect Trump: collusion over stolen communications.

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said during a July 2016 news conference.

Different emails, I know. There's no evidence anybody hacked Hillary's private messages. Even so, if Trump's antics looked unseemly then, they look worse now.

Anyway, think about it: To buy the Trump/Sanders/Fox News alibi, it's necessary to believe that Crooked Hillary conspired with British sleuth Christopher Steele and the Kremlin to throw the election to Trump himself.

I know the woman is devious, but that's taking it awfully far.

Of course, this is nothing but gorilla dust, to use the technical term -- chaff posturing apes fling into in the air to confuse rival primates. They also tear down trees, beat their chests, hoot and jump up and down. Anything to avoid a real fight. Or in Trump's case, to confuse the one third of voters enchanted by his cult of personality.

Another thing to keep in mind: "Crooked Hillary" has been serving this function for Republicans since about 1994, aided and abetted by much of the national news media. New to political journalism, I was naive enough to be shocked when I realized that an ABC News "Nightline" broadcast doctored a video clip to make the then-First Lady appear to deny doing legal work for a failed Arkansas savings and loan.

"No wonder," Jeff Greenfield exclaimed, "the White House was so worried about what was in Vince Foster's office when he killed himself."

Suspicious, right? But only if you didn't know that Hillary's forthright statement of, "I was what we called the billing attorney" had been electronically deleted. It also helped to not understand that an attorney's death doesn't empower police to rummage through client files. Who would entrust sensitive documents to a lawyer if they could? Hence no cause for worry existed.

Because it sounded fishy to me, I cross-checked the original videotape of the First Lady's press conference. Uh-oh. Nevertheless, the fake quote appeared everywhere in the national news media, sparking widespread speculation that Crooked Hillary would soon be indicted.

Why the Clinton White House never confronted this monkey business, I never understood. Those responsible should have been run out of journalism.

Too late now. Entire TV networks now practice such dark arts daily.

Every Crooked Hillary frenzy I've encountered since has followed the same pattern: Correct the errors and fill in the blanks, and the scandal evaporates. Whether you'd want her to be your president or even your neighbor, Hillary Clinton is a cautious, intelligent politician who colors inside the lines -- even if those lines are often drawn with legalistic exactitude.

Consider the great uranium mining scandal currently roiling Fox News. First, it's closer to 2 percent, not 20, of the U.S. capacity of low-grade (i.e. non-weapons-grade) ore. Second, it can't be exported. Third, there's zero evidence Secretary Clinton even knew about the deal, much less strong-armed eight other agencies into approving it. Fourth, Canadian mining executives who'd donated generously to the Clinton Foundation had sold their shares years earlier, and had nothing to gain.

In short, another Crooked Hillary nothingburger.

She'll never run again, but this is exactly how things are done in authoritarian countries like, well, Russia. You oppose the strongman, first they smear you, and then they throw you in jail.

But this is still the United States of America.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com

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