Mueller investigation: Half of Americans doubt fairness of Trump probe, new poll shows

Scott Clement

The American people have mixed feelings about investigating President Donald Trump, with clear majorities wanting newly empowered Democrats to dig into his personal finances and foreign ties but most believing Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The public’s cautiousness extends to its expectations for the forthcoming report from special counsel Robert Mueller III, who has been examining ties between Russia and Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Half of Americans report they have “just some” confidence or none at all that the Mueller report will be fair and even-handed, and 43 per cent say they have at least a good amount of confidence in its fairness.

The survey was conducted Monday to Thursday, the day before Mr Mueller’s team unveiled criminal charges against long-time Trump friend Roger Stone, accusing the political operative of lying, obstruction and witness tampering.

The poll results underscore the complex calculation ahead for Democrats and their new House leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, as they balance calls from core supporters to aggressively investigate and possibly even impeach Mr Trump against the potential political backlash from other voters.

The impeachment question has gained attention in the days since the Democrats’ House majority was sworn in, with party leaders insisting they will wait to consider their options until after Mr Mueller finishes his work and Mr Trump declaring: ”You can’t impeach somebody that’s doing a great job.”

Six in 10 adults support the party using its congressional authority to obtain and release Mr Trump’s tax returns, the survey shows. Similar majorities support Democrats investigating suspected financial ties between Mr Trump and foreign governments, the president’s relationship and communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as possible collusion in the 2016 campaign.

And yet a 46 per cent plurality suspect Democrats will “go too far” in their inquiries of Mr Trump, while just over one-third think they will handle it about right.

Meanwhile, public support for impeachment has dropped in recent months, the poll shows.

In the August Post-ABC poll, conducted immediately after Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance and other charges and personally implicated Mr Trump in some of his acts, 49 per cent said Congress should begin impeachment proceedings that could lead to Mr Trump being removed from office, while 46 per cent said Congress should not.

In the new survey, a smaller 40 per cent support impeachment proceedings, while a 55 per cent majority oppose them.

Partisans have long held sharply different views of Mr Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but the new Post-ABC poll shows many Democrats are uncertain about the special counsel’s final report. Just over six in 10 Democrats say they are confident the report will be fair and even-handed, while slightly more than three in 10 report “just some” confidence or less.

Among self-identified independents, 40 per cent are confident Mr Mueller’s final report will be fair, while 53 per cent express less faith. Confidence drops to 22 per cent among Republicans.

It is not clear whether the public’s wariness towards Mr Mueller’s forthcoming report reflects scepticism in the special counsel himself, anticipation of its findings or the nature of its release. A poll this month by the Pew Research Centre found 55 per cent of adults saying they are “very” or “somewhat” confident Mr Mueller is conducting a fair investigation, attitudes consistent with surveys since late 2017.

The timeline for Mr Mueller finishing his report is unknown, and it is uncertain how much of the report will be made public. Mr Trump’s attorney general nominee, William P Barr, told senators during his confirmation hearing earlier this month that he would release a summary of the report but he did not know “what will be release-able” given department regulations.

In Congress, the poll shows House Democrats garner majority support from fellow partisans and independents for investigating possible collusion with Russia in 2016, as well as suspected financial ties between Mr Trump and foreign governments. Roughly eight in 10 Democrats and about six in 10 independents support Democrats probing Mr Trump’s relationship with Putin, which has come under increased scrutiny following a Washington Post report that Mr Trump concealed details of their face-to-face meetings.

Nearly three-quarters of Republicans oppose Democrats investigating possible collusion, while nearly two-thirds oppose investigating Mr Trump’s relationship with Mr Putin and suspected financial ties with foreign governments. Roughly one-third of Republicans, however, support investigations on these latter issues.

Mr Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns in line with the tradition of modern presidential candidates was widely unpopular during the 2016 presidential campaign, and the Post-ABC poll shows support for Democrats enforcing that norm. By 60 per cent to 35 per cent, more say Democrats should use their congressional authority to obtain and release Mr Trump’s tax returns.

In their first week in control of the House, Democrats unveiled a bill requiring presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns and mandating more transparency for inaugural and transition committees, a law that would apply to Mr Trump in a re-election run. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said the idea was effectively dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Democrats may have difficulty balancing pressure for aggressive investigations and perhaps impeachment of Mr Trump from their party’s base with the need to avoid alienating independent voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

A 64 per cent majority of Democrats support Congress beginning impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump – 55 per cent support this “strongly.” Among political independents, a 45 per cent plurality think Democrats will go too far investigating Mr Trump, more than the 34 per cent who think they will handle this about right, and 18 per cent believe they will not go far enough.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone 21-24 January among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, with 65 per cent reached on mobile phones and 35 per cent on landlines. Overall results have a 3.5-percentage-point margin of sampling error for the full sample.

The Washington Post