For well over a year, President Trump has been whining that the investigation under the auspices of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is a “witch hunt,” a “hoax.” And yet Mueller has snagged 34 indictments, convicted former campaign chief Paul Manafort and negotiated plea deals with Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Allen Weisselberg and other former Trump associates. We’ve learned that Trump falsely told voters he had no dealings with Russia and that no one in his campaign had contacts with Russia. It sure doesn’t seem like a “witch hunt,” and Americans have figured out Mueller is onto something.
The Washington Post-Schar School poll shows that by a margin of 56 percent to 33 percent, voters believe Mueller over Trump. Worse for the president, 51 percent approve of Mueller’s handling the probe, while only 34 percent do not. (The margin is much greater for self-identified liberals and moderates, while conservatives disapprove by a large margin.) A near-identical margin disapprove of how Trump has responded. As for what Mueller’s investigation has yielded, voters are split as to whether Mueller has proved Trump campaign members lied about Russian contacts. Fifty-seven percent of voters, however, do not believe Mueller has yet proved “coordination” between the Russians and Trump team, and 60 percent think Mueller has not yet proved Trump committed obstruction of justice.
Here’s the bad news for Trump: If Mueller does prove Trump ordered coordination, a whopping 61 percent of voters favor impeachment; if Mueller finds obstruction, 64 percent would favor impeachment. These figures should remind pundits that the public’s current aversion to impeachment does not mean they will always oppose impeachment. Voters actually want to know the facts. Moreover, 56 percent of voters think Mueller is more motivated by a desire to find the truth while only 38 percent say he’s motivated by politics.
This comes as NBC reports Tuesday that Senate investigators are wrapping up their probe with no direct evidence of collusion. That said, the Senate did not have access to all witnesses and documents that Mueller has had. It did not have the benefit of Cohen’s truthful testimony after he agreed to cooperate. We will simply have to wait to get Mueller’s authoritative report.
The Post-Schar School poll results suggest a few conclusions about the investigation. First, Trump and his surrogates (e.g., Rudolph W. Giuliani, members of the House Freedom Caucus) have convinced very few people outside Trump’s core base of support (conservative Republicans) that he is the innocent victim of a witch hunt. No matter how many tweets or Sean Hannity interviews, the Trump cult essentially talks only to itself. Second, on most questions independent voters (who make up an increasingly large share of the electorate) side with Democrats. Third, the public doesn’t buy that obstruction of justice is a mere “process” crime. To the contrary, a slightly higher percentage of voters are willing to impeach for obstruction than for coordination with the Russians. (Sixty-four percent of registered voters, including 68 percent of independents, vs. 61 percent of registered voters and independents). We should be grateful that Americans understand crimes such as obstruction are serious felonies that go to the legitimacy of our judicial system. If found to have committed obstruction, Trump shouldn’t bet he’ll escape unscathed.