Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

A new CNN poll finds that 61 percent of Americans say the Russia affair is a serious matter that should be investigated. It finds that 55 percent say President Trump has tried to interfere in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. And it finds that 60 percent are not confident that Trump is taking steps to safeguard the nation against foreign sabotage of future elections.

Here’s why this poll matters so much at this particular moment. It comes right after two major events that (1) underscored the extraordinary measures that Trump and his allies have employed to deceive the nation about the Mueller probe; and (2) illustrated Trump’s profound abdication in refusing to act to prevent further Russian attacks on our democracy.

First, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) released his rebuttal to the memo authored by Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Schiff’s rebuttal revealed just how absurd the story line spun by Nunes really is: It showed that to get a warrant to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, the Justice Department relied only narrowly on the Democratic-funded research in the “Steele dossier,” and relied on “multiple sources.” It also showed that the investigation predated any info from Steele, that the Justice Department actually did reveal that British spy Christopher Steele had gathered data for political reasons, and that the data was corroborated by investigators from other sources.

Now, it’s always possible Schiff’s rebuttal is wrong on some of the facts. But there is nothing in Nunes’s memo that offers any cause for concluding that. And Nunes’s memo undercuts itself, by revealing both that the genesis of the probe predated Steele and that judges renewed the warrants, suggesting they thought the probe was bearing fruit. Trump has claimed that the Nunes memo vindicates his insistence that the probe is a “witch hunt.” But those two facts about the Nunes memo alone demolish that lie. The Schiff rebuttal is icing on that cake — it simply reinforces the degree to which the Nunes memo inadvertently undercuts Trump’s narrative.

Indeed, what the Schiff and Nunes affair really illustrates is just how far Trump’s allies and other Republicans — such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), who blessed the Nunes memo strategy — are going in weaponizing and perverting the oversight process to protect Trump from any accountability. Meanwhile, the second big event — Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals — shows just how elaborate the alleged scheme to undermine our election really was, and by extension, what a great abdication it is for Trump to continue to claim Russian interference is a hoax and to continue to fail to do nothing in preparation for more to come.

The CNN poll suggests that the false alt-narrative spun by Trump and his allies — even to the degree that it’s merely intended to kick up a lot of fog to confuse people — just isn’t working on much of the American mainstream. Large majorities not only accept that the Russian sabotage happened, but also see it as a cause for serious concern that should be investigated and reject the notion that the probe is a “witch hunt” to hurt Trump. (Only 34 percent believe that.) Majorities also say Trump has interfered in that same investigation and that Trump isn’t taking future sabotage seriously enough. Even larger majorities say that such sabotage is generally a cause for concern (72 percent) and that disinformation aimed at U.S. voters is also cause for concern (70 percent).

The broader story Trump and his allies are trying to tell here is that the probe itself represents a “deep state” coup to overturn the election. In addition to the Nunes memo’s effort to portray the probe as the fruit of a poisoned tree (now debunked by Schiff) and Trump’s frequent suggestion that Russian sabotage never happened at all (undercut by the Mueller indictments), there has also been a drumbeat of claims that law enforcement allowed alleged Hillary Clinton wrongdoing to slide, showing that it is riddled with corruption. Trump again tweeted furiously about that Tuesday morning. But the plain fact remains that a large majority of Americans see the probe as legitimate and focused on matters of serious national interest.

There is a tendency among liberals to dismiss such findings by arguing that the alt-narrative is working on its intended target — Republicans — which shows that GOP lawmakers won’t hold Trump accountable if Mueller documents serious misconduct. It is true that the CNN poll finds that 71 percent of Republicans think the probe is a witch hunt. But even here you can see cracks in Trump’s coalition: Twenty-six percent of Republicans say Russian sabotage is a serious matter that should be investigated, and non-college-educated whites tilt slightly toward that position, 50 percent to 45 percent.

But that aside, it was always going to be hard to get Republican voters to take this seriously as long as Trump keeps telling them it’s a witch hunt. And the chances that GOP lawmakers will act even if serious misconduct is uncovered has always been a long shot. It’s likely that the only hope for any accountability is for Democrats to take back the House. And the CNN poll shows that large majorities of the voter groups that will likely make that possible all see this as a serious matter. That position is held by 67 percent of college-educated whites; 60 percent of people under 45; 71 percent of nonwhites; and 65 percent of women.

Whether or not that will actually help Democrats take back the lower chamber is another question, of course. But Trump and his allies are losing the battle over public opinion on the Russia probe, and we shouldn’t hesitate to say so.

* WHITE HOUSE REACHES OUT TO GOP ON GUNS: Bloomberg Politics reports that the White House is reaching out to congressional Republicans to gauge their support for various gun reforms, but isn’t getting much back:

One measure the president has spoken of approvingly in public — legislation that would close gaps in criminal records entered into the database for existing federal gun background checks — has already hit a bump. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah … blocked the chamber from considering the bill. … House Republicans also are deeply divided over whether to allow consideration of the background check legislation without a provision … requiring all states to honor concealed carry permits issued in other states.

“Are deeply divided” is code for “won’t allow this to move forward, ever, no matter what.” The question is whether Trump will press Republicans to do it. Seems unlikely.

* WILL REPUBLICANS ACT ON BACKGROUND CHECKS? The Post reports that in addition to the proposal mentioned above, which would improve data sharing on background checks, there’s another possibility:

A bill aimed at beefing up background checks, first proposed in 2013 by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), could be revived, the two men said, but they maintained that Trump’s support was a prerequisite. “President Trump has to find a pathway that he feels comfortable with,” Manchin said.

Nice to hear this proposal (which was filibustered by Republicans in 2013) being discussed again, but I fear we will soon learn Trump is not even remotely serious about acting even to improve background checks.

* JOHN KELLY AND IVANKA TRUMP ARE AT ODDS: CNN reports that some inside the White House, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, are pretty ticked that Trump sent Ivanka Trump to South Korea:

The decision to send her to South Korea did not sit well with some senior officials in the West Wing, two people familiar with the situation told CNN. The nuclear threat from North Korea and the tensions already boiling across the Korean Peninsula made any U.S. delegation far more than ceremonial. Kelly was not initially enthusiastic about her South Korea trip … largely because the visit to the Korean Peninsula was far more than a typical Olympic closing ceremony.

But according to CNN, Kelly privately concluded that opposing her trip “would be a losing battle.” It’s great that President Trump is putting only “the best people” in charge, isn’t it?

* A SHOWDOWN OVER THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION IN GEORGIA: After Delta Air Lines nixed a discount fare program for the NRA, the Republican lieutenant governor threatened to kill a tax break deal for the company:

The GOP governor, who supports the tax break to encourage international flight routes from Georgia, is not commenting. What will conservatives say about this use of governmental power?

* THE NRA WHITEWASHES ITS HISTORY: NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch is pushing the idea that the NRA supports fixing the holes in the background check system. Salvador Rizzo reconstructs the history and shows the NRA fought background checks for years:

The NRA’s love-hate relationship with the [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] database is something to behold. The group once fought to strike down the law that created the database. Failing that, the NRA still managed to defang one of the law’s provisions. But now, the NRA and Loesch are concerned that the NICS is not getting all the records it needs. The irony is that the NICS might be getting those records — or getting more of them, at least — had the NRA not worked to undermine the Brady law in the early 1990s.

But today’s concern about the holes in our background check system sure makes the NRA sound reasonable right now!

* THE FORCES OF DECENCY ARE RISING: Paul Krugman considers the rise of the alt-right as against the response to Trumpism and the Florida shooting from #MeToo and the Parkland kids, and argues the latter groups are ascendant:

The period 2016-17 clearly represented a sort of Alt-Right Spring … in which white supremacists and anti-Semites were emboldened. … I nevertheless find the surge of indignation now building in America hugely encouraging. … The #MeToo movement, the refusal to shrug off the Parkland massacre, the new political activism of outraged citizens (many of them women) all stem from a common perception … that far too much power rests in the hands of men who are simply bad people.

Krugman suggests the only hope for the “forces of decency” is taking the House, but much of this energy should also be getting channeled into regaining ground in the states, which is crucial.

* AND THIS IS HOW ONE REPUBLICAN CHANGED ON GUNS: Paul Kane has an interesting report on how GOP Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, a veteran and gun-carrier, changed his mind and now supports gun control:

Mast is a Bronze Star winner — the ultimate “good guy with a gun,” as gun-rights supporters like to say. But his handgun and concealed-weapon permit would have been no match for someone firing a military-style weapon from high above. “He could take me out, and my concealed-carry does me no good,” he recalled thinking that day. That’s when Mast started thinking, for the first time in his brief political career, about how federal gun laws should change.

If only more Republicans would think seriously about this issue, instead of thinking in “good guy with a gun” cartoons.